The Secret Sense of Wildflower

The Secret Sense of Wildflower

4.0 4
by Susan Gabriel

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Named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews!

Set in 1940s Appalachia, The Secret Sense of Wildflower tells the story of Louisa May "Wildflower" McAllister whose life has been shaped around the recent death of her beloved father in a sawmill accident.

While her mother hardens in her grief, Wildflower and her three sisters must cope with their loss themselves, as

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Named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews!

Set in 1940s Appalachia, The Secret Sense of Wildflower tells the story of Louisa May "Wildflower" McAllister whose life has been shaped around the recent death of her beloved father in a sawmill accident.

While her mother hardens in her grief, Wildflower and her three sisters must cope with their loss themselves, as well as with the demands of daily survival. Despite these hardships, Wildflower has a resilience that is forged with humor, a love of the land, and an endless supply of questions to God.

When Johnny Monroe, the town's teenage ne'er-do-well, sets his sights on Wildflower, she must draw on the strength of her relations, both living and dead, to deal with his threat.

With prose as lush and colorful as the American South, The Secret Sense of Wildflower is powerful and poignant, brimming with energy and angst, humor and hope.

In its ability to create a truly original Southern voice, The Secret Sense of Wildflower establishes Gabriel as a thoughtful and powerful Southern writer.

"A quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read."
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"The Secret Sense of Wildflower is eloquent and moving tale chock-filled with themes of inner strength, family and love that will resonate with teenagers and adults, alike."
- Maya Fleischmann,

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
In this novel, life turns toward a dark horizon for a precocious adolescent grieving for her father in 1941 Tennessee. It's difficult to harbor secrets in a rural mountain town of maybe 80 souls, especially when adult siblings live within spitting distance of the family home. Most of the townsmen work at the sawmill, and most of the young women have been harassed at one time or another by creepy Johnny Monroe. But Louisa May McAllister, nicknamed Wildflower, knows that revealing her frequent forays to the cemetery, where she talks to her beloved late father, would only rile her embittered mother. She also knows to hide her "secret sense," as it would evoke scorn from all save eccentric Aunt Sadie, who shares her tomboy niece's gift. Those secrets come at a cost when, on one of her graveyard visits, Louisa May ignores her premonition of danger. The consequences--somewhat expected yet still horrific--are buffered by the visions into which the 13-year-old escapes. Sharp-witted, strong, curious and distrustful of any authority figure not living up to her standards--including God--Louisa May immerses us in her world with astute observations and wonderfully turned phrases, with nary a cliché to be found. She could be an adolescent Scout Finch, had Scout's father died unexpectedly and her life taken a bad turn. Though her story is full of pathos and loss, her sorrow is genuine and refreshingly free of self-pity. She accepts that she and her mother are "like vinegar and soda, always reacting," that her best friend has grown distant, and that despite the preacher's condemnation, a young suicide victim should be sent "to the head of heaven's line." Her connection to the land--a presence as vividly portrayed as any character--makes her compassionate but tough; she's as willing to see trees as angels as she is to join her brothers-in-law in seeking revenge. By necessity, Louisa May grows up quickly, but by her secret sense, she also understands forgiveness. A quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read.

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Product Details

Wild Lily Arts
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.55(d)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

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The Secret Sense of Wildflower 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
TTThomas More than 1 year ago
I’ve read a lot of coming-of-age novels that were poignant, heart-warming and full of the kind of quixotic things a child deduces from her environment, but I’ve never read a story as dramatically understated that sings so powerfully and honestly about the sense of life that stands in tribute to bravery as Susan Gabriel’s The Secret Sense of Wildflower. As others have noted, Louisa May “Wildflower” McAlister is the youngest child of Tennessee mountain folk during the 1940s. Despite the poverty, the narrow-minded biases of the close-knit community and the outcast victims of both, Wildflower always seems to find an accepting, matter-of-fact take on things, especially things she doesn’t fully understand. The child is gracious in her humanity, hysterical in her frank distaste for some of it, and both a beneficiary and a victim of some of the mountain folk’s best tenderness and worst ignorance. Gabriel’s writing style combines the stark and muted overtones of emotions unarticulated with the sparse but audible undertones of the (near) old South to capture the flavor of the environment and the mindset of its people. She is unfailing in her steadfast adherence to keeping us within the point of view of Wildflower while giving us plenty of insight into the other characters by what they do and don’t say. Gabriel’s choices here were markswoman perfect. And what a lovely tribute to Little Women, and its author, Louisa May Alcott! I daresay Miss Alcott would accept the tribute and complement the author on a job well done!  I did not think the interior and expository utterances of a 13-year girl could hold my attention for an entire book, but in fact, my attention never wavered. I think Gabriel’s success in achieving the full attention of the reader is partially because Wildflower is more adult than most of the adults around her. But she has another dimension that most adults would not ordinarily attribute to a young girl: She is simultaneously innocent and guileless in her trust of people’s innate goodness any yet she possesses a hyper-vigilant awareness of the warning signals that forewarn her of the aberrant hearts of the damaged people she meets. Wildflower rarely ignores here “secret sense” but the one time she does, in her determination to honor the dead, she nearly loses her own life. How Louisa May handles the challenges of being both a survivor and a victim is heroic beyond imagining and tenderly beautiful beyond words that Gabriel, somehow, managed to find and give us in a gesture of authorly benevolence that this reader will forever remember and appreciate.
runnergirlLK 2 days ago
I thought I'd give this a chance -- it sounded interesting because of both the time period and the location. I found I just completely disliked it. Louisa May ("Wildflower") was an OK young heroine, but I just knew what was going to happen to her. So the plot was not suspenseful -- it was just a matter of how long into the story "it" was going to happen (I don't want to state it here - no spoiler). Overall, I just didn't like the characters and I didn't like the plot/story line. I suspect my book club group would like it (I find with some of our selections that I am often the only one who doesn't like a particular book, and it is usually one like this -- so that is why I decided to try it in case I could recommend it as a monthly selection. But I most definitely will not.). The author did do a good job of evoking the rigidity and narrow-mindedness of the community; I'll give her that. For me, this book completely missed the mark.
Anne 6 months ago
A fantastic read! I enjoyed Gabriel's first novel, Seeking Sara Summers. The Secret Sense of Wildflower is quite a departure, or perhaps demonstrates the breadth of Gabriel's abilities. It also shows her depth, as the writing is very solid. The novel is set in 1940's Appalachia and is full of humor mixed in with a serious theme. Wildflower (her nickname) is a spunky teen whose beloved father died a year or so ago and she and her mother and three sisters forge their way without their man. A local boy, Johnny Monroe is one of those mountain cretins you don't want to meet (think Deliverance) and he and Wildflower have a dramatic encounter. I don't want to reveal the storyline, but I recommend this to those who are tired of badly written novels and want a lyrical, suspenseful story that is hard to forget.
Anonymous 11 months ago
I found this to be a quick read and really liked the principle character.