I read this book because I felt like I was missing out on something. I’d heard nothing but glowing reviews of this from folks who read it in school and loved it. That, plus its inclusion on a lot of #blackboyjoylit lists made me expect this to be a very different middle grade coming-of-age tale than it is. As it is, the book takes us into the mountains somewhere in the Eastern USA to follow 13 year old M.C.’s 3-day journey from…kid to slightly older kid? Weird characters pop up and do weird things, poverty abounds, nobody goes to school, M.C. does most of the parenting for his gaggle of siblings despite having a whole live-in mom and dad, and a pile of mining trash looms over it all.
I always say that I read to experience lives thoroughly unlike my own and in that, this book satisfies. M.C. and his family are essentially Black hillbillies being slowly pushed out of their mountain home by a mining company’s destructive acts. I can’t necessarily relate, but the premise is fascinating. Hamilton is a good storyteller and you really are drawn into the Higgins’s daily lives, and I did start to see a bit of myself in M.C. when he’s left to care for his younger siblings while mom and dad work long hours. But then the story hiccups and there’s something about a traveling ethnomusicologist, “witchy folk”, a crush on a mysterious older girl, a 40-foot metal pole with a bicycle seat on top that nobody seems to think is dangerous and ok, you know what? I just didn’t like this at all. It was weird, the characters were unlikable, and the story took forever to go nowhere. I can see why people like it and I’m a big fan of reading for difference, so I stuck it through and I’m not mad that I read this. For me, though, there were still too many ham-handed attempts at deep symbolism and not enough resolution. Had I read this as a kid, I’d have hated it–elementary-aged me would have demanded to know who wants to read about a mean half-grown boy wandering around staring at people and acting superior for no real reason, in the end? Because it sure wasn’t me.
Also, I was an elementary school educator for a whirlwind two years and I have to confess- I spent much of the book wanting to snatch M.C up just a little bit. He’s prickly, arrogant, under-parented, and makes a lot of strange choices that mean he doesn’t really learn much by the book’s end.
Three stars and a container of Old Spice (you know he needs it) to M.C. Higgins the Great.
(I always get a little nervous when roasting a book I know is someone else’s favorite, but hey, all reviews on this site are my own opinions, never paid, never bought. What can be bought are the books you find at links throughout this site, which lead to our affiliates like Bookshop. If you click and purchase anything, a commission may be earned. Peace!)