Jimmy Lee Hickam grew up along Red Dog Road, a dead-end strip of gravel and mud buried deep in the bowels of Appalachian Ohio. It is the poorest road, in the poorest county, in the poorest region of the state. To make things worse, the name Hickam is synonymous with trouble. Jimmy Lee hails from a heathen mix of thieves, moonshiners, drunkards, and general anti-socials thaJimmy Lee Hickam grew up along Red Dog Road, a dead-end strip of gravel and mud buried deep in the bowels of Appalachian Ohio. It is the poorest road, in the poorest county, in the poorest region of the state. To make things worse, the name Hickam is synonymous with trouble. Jimmy Lee hails from a heathen mix of thieves, moonshiners, drunkards, and general anti-socials that for decades have clung to both the hardscrabble hills and the iron bars of every jail cell in the region. This life, Jimmy Lee believes, is his destiny, someday working with his drunkard father at the sawmill, or sitting next to his arsonist brother in the penitentiary. There aren't many options if your last name is Hickam.
An inspiring coach and Jimmy Lee's ability to play football are the only things motivating him to return for his junior year of high school until his visionary English teacher cuts him a break and preserves his eligibility for the coming football season. To thank her, Jimmy Lee writes a winning essay in the high school writing contest. When irate parents and the baffled administration claim he has cheated, his teacher is inspired to take his writing talent as far as it can go, showing him the path out of the hills of Appalachia.
Terrific characterizations, surprising revelations, gut-wrenching past betrayals, and an unforgettable cast of characters born of the dusty, worn-out landscape of southeastern Ohio make The Essay a powerful, evocative, and incredibly moving novel....more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 2012 by Arcade Publishing
An accident on the Ohio River has far-reaching consequences for a boy and his best friend.
Mitch Malone and Travis Baron have grown up together in the river village of Brilliant, Ohio. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the steel industry is still thriving, and so are the bars on Brilliant’s brief main street. When Mitch and Travis aren’t on the athletic field or exploring Tarr’s Dome, they amuse themselves along the banks of the Ohio River by shooting carp with bow and arrow and selling them to Turkeyman Melman, an eccentric scavenger. But Travis has a more compelling purpose in his life; he wants to know what really happened to his mother, Amanda. When he was just a baby, she and a mystery man supposedly drowned in a boating accident on the Ohio. But Travis doesn’t dare ask his father for the truth. Big Frank is a vicious drunk with a string of failed subsequent marriages and a callous indifference that frequently erupts into violence against his only child. Whatever research Travis does on Operation Amanda is a stealth mission that depends on Mitch’s uneasy help. Travis’ discovery of a memorial garden for his mother and a secret visitor who brings flowers and leaves large footprints fuels the boy’s determination to get to the truth about the night his mother and a rumored lover were on Frank’s pleasure boat, which crashed into a barge. Travis and Mitch interview a disgraced detective who had pursued the accident as a homicide and lends them his notes. But Travis is desperate to believe that somehow Amanda escaped—an obsession that comes to a head the night after his high school graduation.
Yocum (The Essay, 2012, etc.) creates so much sympathy for his characters in this coming-of-age tale that you hope for an alternate theory to what appears to be the ineluctable facts of a tragedy.