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Reviewed by Susan Sewell for Readers' Favorite
Set at the turn of the twentieth century, Topside by David Quarles is a stunning historical novel portraying the life of a young man growing up in a coal-mining town. When he was young, Jack Smith lost his father in a coal mining accident. A few years later, at the age of fourteen, Jack's mother dies, leaving him an orphan. When the mine owner gives him a job, Jack quits school and lives in an apartment owned by the mine. Taking every opportunity that arises, Jack learns different aspects of the coal mining operation, expanding his experience and deepening his connection to the coal industry. With the advent of World War One and the rise of Unions, Jack's life takes some interesting turns. With a new family and a conflict with the new union, Jack must look for work outside the area. Only knowing the coal industry, Jack is conflicted. Should he take the risk and move away from the coal mines to start over? Or can he stick it out where he is and find a way to use his life-long knowledge and experience to care for his family?
Eloquent and picturesque, Topside by David Quarles is a brilliant and stirring novel. Beautifully written, the story has an absorbing plot that triggered memories of my grandparents' recollections of their childhoods from that era. There is nothing artificial about this story; the era cues are spot on, the setting is authentic, and the characters are genuine. I loved Jack's character and enjoyed observing him grow from boyhood and mature through his adult life; it was poignant and heartwarming. With an admirable protagonist and extraordinary settings, it is a charming story that promises to enchant everyone who enjoys historical novels that accurately portray the social impacts of another time.