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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Rock Candy Mountain by Earl Davis is quite a different type of memoir in that it focuses on just a short period of the author’s life, up until the age of fourteen, with most of the story revolving around a two-year period from the age of thirteen. Born in the back-blocks of Kentucky, Earl Davis just wanted to experience the world and, at the age of thirteen, in the early 1900s, he headed off from his shanty home, leaving behind an alcoholic, but hardworking father and a loving mother to see what was beyond the mountains of his Kentucky home. Using the time-honoured method of the day, jumping freight trains and blinding passenger trains, Earl managed to crisscross the United States, and even briefly made it into Canada, finally ending up in Texas, lured by dreams of being a cowboy. Along the way, Earl grew up very quickly and realised the harshness of life, as well as the incredible kindness and heart of many people.
This book gives us a fascinating insight into life at the turn of the last century in a dirt-poor state like Kentucky. The author's descriptions of the beauty of his home state and especially his home town, with its freezing winters and its stifling summers, was a simple joy to read. Seeing all of this through the eyes of a young boy and watching him develop, grow and learn many of life’s hard lessons, is what lifts Rock Candy Mountain above most memoirs I have read. Earl Davis invites us into his own private world and we are privy to the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams of an often scared and lonely, but always game young man. I found the style of this telling refreshingly simple and a pleasure to read. The highlight for me was the realisation that even in the depths of poverty, many ordinary people would go out of their way to help this young waif. Earl learnt many important lessons on life in this two-year sojourn that would undoubtedly set him up for his future. I can highly recommend this read. It is a deeply personal and touching insight into a time and ways long forgotten.