I just finished a terrific novel – Sister Mine by Tawni O’Dell. This is her third novel, and I’ve devoured all of them, even though one was backed by the high priestess of literature herself, Ms. Oprah Winfrey.
All of O’Dell’s novels take place in mining towns of Pennsylvania. Her well-crafted characters are flawed and honest and live normal lives. They don’t have McMansions in the suburbs – they are miners and fallen hometown football heroes and people with broken families but resilient spirits.
My book club read one of her novels maybe two years ago. My friend Lynn and I were both gaga over the story and the honest portrayal of small town life, a world where small town can mean small world, but doesn’t always. We were dismayed by the reaction of other members of our book club.
They talked about the characters as white trash.
I wanted to cry.
Granted, this was during a rather wounded period in my life. I cried at infomercials. But white trash?
Lynn and I are the only ones in the group who grew up in small towns. And sadly, it seemed that we were the only ones who got it, the only ones who understood that a trailer doesn’t make you trash, that families patched together the best they can manage are families nonetheless.
I’m amazed at people – especially people I consider my friends – who assume that everybody worth knowing lives the way they do. Or maybe they’re just scared of anything different. I read these books and feel like I do know the characters, and I’m better for it.