With her mother facing prison time for a violent political protest, seventeen-year-old Liberty Briscoe has no choice but to leave her Washington, DC, apartment and take a bus to Ebbottsville, Kentucky, to live with her granny. There she can at least finish high school and put some distance between herself and her motheror her former mother, as she calls her. But Ebbottsville isn't the same as Liberty remembers, and it's not just because the top of Tanner's Peak has been blown away to mine for coal. Half the county is out of work, an awful lot of people in town seem to be sick, and the tap water is bright orangethe same water that officials claim is safe. And when Granny's lingering cold turns out to be something much worse, Liberty wonders if somebody at the mine is hiding the truth about the water. She starts to investigate and is soon plunged into a world of secrets, lies, threats, and danger. Her searches for answers and justice lead to even tougher questionsshould she turn to violence and end up like her mother? Give up her quest for the sake of keeping the peace? Or keep fighting until the mine is shut down for good?
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Union Station is crisscrossed with spotlights, lit white against the dark DC sky. I step out of the car and wait for Iris's mom to pop the trunk. "You don't have to stay," I say to Iris. "I'm okay by myself."
We each grab one of my suitcases. Iris slams the trunk, and we set the luggage on the sidewalk in front of the art deco bus station.
"No way." She untangles her sapphire bracelet from my luggage tag. "I won't get to see you for how long, and you think I'm going to give up my last few minutes of Liberty time?" She pulls me into a hug as her mom drives off to park the car. "I'm going to miss you, girl."
My eyes sting a little, but I don't cry. I never cry. "I'm going to miss you too. Hugely much."
"Seriously. When are you coming back?"
I open my backpack and riffle through the papers, looking for the ticket I printed online. I really hate that question. "It depends." On whether the woman who gave birth to me is guilty or innocent. On whether her lawyers are crappy or decent. On whether she ends up getting life in prison or not. But I don't have to say those things. Iris already knows.
"Best-case scenario?" she prompts.
"It's fourteen months till the trial. After that ..." Shrugging, I unfold the paper ticket and smooth out the wrinkles. Ebbottsville, KY is printed across the center. Below that, it says One-Way. All six letters are little knives to my soul.
"So if everything goes well, you'll be back just in time for graduation." Iris gives me her famous grin, all wide eyes and pretty teeth. "Perfect timing, yeah?"
I know she's trying to cheer me up, but it's not working. How could it?
We head for the bus terminal, dragging my luggage behind. The station's pretty quiet this late at night, the loudest sound being the clicking of our sharp heels on the marble floor.
"At least you'll get to see your granny," Iris says after a while.
"True." I am looking forward to that. When I was little, Mom and I lived in Ebbottsville and I stayed with Granny all the time. She and I would milk the goats and collect the eggs, and by the end of the day, she'd have me laughing so hard my stomach ached. But after we moved to DC in mom's never-ending quest for A Better Life, there wasn't time for the six-hour drive to go see her. It's been five years since we last visited. So yeah — Granny's the one bright spot in this whole debacle.
"Do you remember anybody there?" Iris asks. "Any of the kids?"
Thinking back, I try to recall. "Not really. We moved here when I was seven, so it's not like I'd formed any deep and lasting emotional ties."
"Well, I'm sure you'll charm them all to pieces."
I snort. "I think you have me confused with you."
"You'll be fine," Iris says. "It might even be nice to have a break from the norm. Think of it like a trip abroad."
Easy for her to say. While she's finishing our junior year at Westfield Academy, I'll be at Plurd County High, where I'm just sure they'll have Comparative Religion, Anthropology, and German III. I'll be lucky to have a math class that doesn't involve flash cards. "People don't go abroad to rural Appalachia," I say. "There's no immunization against poverty and unemployment."
"It can't be that bad," Iris says. "I mean, your mom grew up there and —"
"I rest my case."
My phone buzzes in my hand. I glance at the caller ID: Pender Federal Corrections Institute. I silence the phone and keep walking.
Iris glances at the screen. "You'll have to talk to her eventually," she says.
I glare sideways at her, but I know she's right. There are things I need sorted out — money stuff, school stuff — and Mom's the only one who can explain them. Sighing, I let my suitcase bump to a stop against my leg and answer the phone.
An automated voice tells me I have a message from Jamie Briscoe at the Pender Women's Corrections Institute. I have about a second to think "institute" sounds so much better than "prison" before Mom's voice fills my ear.
"Hi, Lib. I know you're probably on your way to Mommy's now. I just wanted to tell you that I love you. I know things look pretty bad right now, but you have to trust me. They'll get better soon. We just have to pull together and be a team. We'll get through this. I promise. I love you, sweetie. Hang in there!"
Then there's silence — except for the blood pounding in my head. Did she really, really and freaking truly invoke the speech? We just need to pull together and be a team. How many times have I heard those words? During her double jobs and night school and the stupid rallies she had to attend, all while I was cooking dinner, paying bills, and going to bed in an empty house. The birthday cakes I baked myself. The volleyball games and teacher conferences and school plays she missed, that was us pulling together, I guess. We were a team when I was alone.
I realize I'm frozen in the middle of the concourse, still holding the phone to my ear. "She wants us to be a team."
"Be a team," I say.
There's a disgusted look on Iris's face. She's too polite to say it, but I know she doesn't think much of my mom. Never has. Chalk that up to years of watching Mom let me down. Too many examples of that Briscoe teamwork.
My fingers are bloodless, wrapped tightly around the phone. She's in prison, for God's sake, and she acts like she got a parking ticket. Meanwhile, my whole freaking life is upside down.
"You know what? Fuck the team. I'm done." I slam the phone into the side pocket of my backpack. "No more picking up her slack. No more disappointments. From here on out, I no longer have a mom."
I'm surprised how easy that is to say. Like throwing away a sweater that never really fit, I write the woman who gave me life right out of it.
Iris is quiet for a second or two then squeezes my hand. "We better go. Your bus should be here by now."
The number above my gate blinks as we approach. A handful of people line up to give their luggage to the cargo guy. There's an older couple and three backpacking students, chatting in what I think is Korean. Suddenly, I feel very alone.
Iris links my arm through hers and pulls me close. "You can visit me on the weekends. Whenever you want."
Leaning into her, I say, "Thanks, 'Ris. That'd be great." But I know it won't happen. She'll be busy with the newspaper, school, and theater. Weekends will be packed with group projects and extra rehearsals, parties that I'm not invited to. There'll be no time for catching up. No time for me. People who leave get forgotten pretty fast.
There's a reason my ticket says One-Way.
Fourteen hours later, I'm standing alone on a cracked sidewalk wearing the same clothes. I thought Granny'd be at the station to pick me up, but when I call her, she says I should take a taxi. After dialing the only cab company in the phone book, I wait thirty minutes until an ancient Monte Carlo pulls up in front of the bus station. There's no sign on it though, so when the guy rolls down the window and leans over, I back away.
"Yew call fer a taxi?"
God, I'd forgotten about the accent down here. "Yeah. Are you it?"
He nods and I pull my suitcases toward the car. It doesn't look like he's going to open the trunk or, you know, get out to help me. So I shove my bags across the backseat, climb in after them, and slam the door. "Thanks so much for all your help," I say.
He glares at me in the rearview mirror. "Where you going?"
"The Briscoe farm."
"Figures," he mutters.
I grin. The women in my family aren't exactly shrinking violets. This guy must have tangled with Granny at some point in the past. "Do you know how to get there?"
He doesn't spare me a glance, so I assume he does and settle in for the winding trip up the mountain. Eastern Kentucky isn't at its best in February. The trees are bare, the snow is melting, and the sky's full of clouds. Granny calls this mud season, and that's mostly what I see in the bare fields we pass. Red mud, little white farmhouses puffing out woodsmoke, and the curving gray sky holding it all down.
I feel the shift in the engine as the road tilts upward. We pass the ancient billboard proclaiming, Coal Keeps the Lights On. Then trees close in on either side, disappearing only when walls of craggy rock take their place. I'm not one of those people who wax all poetic about nature, but I like the way this place makes me feel. Like my bones are made of the same rocky stuff. I've missed it.
It takes about fifteen minutes to get to Granny's. Her driveway's long and really muddy and the taxi guy refuses to go up it. He's worried he'll get stuck. I pay him seven dollars, call him chickenshit under my breath, and haul my backpack and suitcases a quarter mile up the hill.
There are so many things I'd forgotten about: the haunted birdhouses we made one Halloween; the split-rail fence my granddad built; two little terriers nipping at my ankles; and Goldie, the old retriever, licking my face and covering my coat with muddy paw prints. I push them away, and they race back to the old brick ranch at the end of the drive, barking nonstop. It's nice to know things haven't changed that much in five years. I'm picking my way across the drier parts of the dirt yard when the front door flies open.
"Liberty, s'at you? God almighty, yer all growed up."
The woman on the porch is a far cry from the wiry, spitfire of a redhead I remember. She's tiny. Thin and stooped. Her cotton-candy hair is a shade I'd call Strawberry Jolly Rancher. If I hadn't just heard my granny's voice come out of that body, I'd swear I'd never seen the woman. Is this really what sixty-one years does to a person?
"It's me." I climb the steps and drop my suitcases. She hugs me and I try to find something to put my arms around. It's like hugging a bird skeleton. "Granny, you're so ..." Skinny. Feeble. Old.
She launches into a cough that makes my throat burn. Before it's done, she's bent over, hanging on to the porch rail.
I put a hand on her bony back. "Let's go inside, and I'll get you some water," I say.
I sit her on the same ugly plaid couch we used to play Clue on and head to the kitchen. Everything looks exactly the same — green-striped wallpaper, bright yellow curtains, coffee pot on the stove, glasses in the cabinet. I'm reaching for the faucet when Granny calls out.
"Don't use the faucet, Libby. There's bottle water in the fridge."
I grab a bottle and take it in to Granny, watching as she downs half of it.
"Thanks, sugar pie." She rubs her chest.
I sit down next to her and put my arm behind her. "You sound terrible. What's wrong?"
"Just a cold, but the cough's sticking with me." She smiles, a picket-fence grin with missing slats. "Now, tell me what all you been up to at that fancy school o' yours."
I tell her about my best friend, Iris, about drama club, volleyball, and newspaper staff. About Georgetown, my dream college. I'm hoping to get early action this year. I have a good chance. But there's this complicated equation of Mother + Prison = Legal Bills = I can't freaking believe she spent my college fund! = Must earn scholarship.
Luckily, Plurd County High School should be a cakewalk compared to Westfield. Straight As ... here I come.
My eyes wander over Granny as I talk. Her T-shirt's faded to a dingy brown, the Natural Bridge decal peeling off. Sweatpants swim around her, like adult clothes on a kid, and she's wearing tube socks with flip-flops. I realize if I saw her in DC, I'd think she was homeless.
"You sure turned out beautiful!" she says. "Just like your mama. I bet you got a dozen boyfriends up there too, don'tcha?"
"I didn't have time for boyfriends, Granny." I don't go into the fact that, after my homework was done, I had the cleaning and the bills and the grocery shopping to take care of because My Former Mother was running around the capitol with some hand-lettered sign yelling badly rhymed slogans about the dangers of genetically modified peaches or whatever cause she was supporting that week.
"I reckon not," Granny says. "Your mama says you're a bookworm."
"Granny, I don't want to talk about that woman, okay? Just pretend I don't have a mother. It's always been easy for me."
"I'm serious." I feel my jaw jut out in what Iris calls my "don't eff with me" face.
Granny mashes her lips together and shakes her head, which I recognize as her "you're full of shit but I ain't gonna say nothin'" face. She squeezes my hand. "Well, I'm'a let you get settled in. If you need anythin', I'll be righ'chere."
I get my suitcases from the front porch. When I roll them through the living room, she's already stretched out under a fleece throw. I walk toward the little room at the back where I always slept, stopping to look at the pictures lining the hallway. My Former Mother (MFM) as a toddler, playing in the creek with Uncle Mark. MFM at Tanner's Peak in her cap and gown, the black robe hiding the fact that she was four months pregnant. Granny holding me at the blackberry patch, my face and hands stained purple. Granddad in his army uniform, back when he had two hands. Just a couple weeks after that, he lost the left one on Hamburger Hill. Granny says he left it there on purpose, so he could keep giving the finger to the Vietcong.
The photos leave me feeling lonely. I feel even lonelier as I stand in my old room, imagining the look on Iris's face if she could see it. Ruffled muslin curtains. A worn, patchwork quilt under a framed, faded magazine story about starfish. Just like the rest of the house, they're shabby and cheap. I'm embarrassed by it all and disgusted with myself for feeling that way.
I drop my backpack on the cedar trunk. Granny must not have cleaned in here for a while. There's yellow dust on everything — like when the pine pollen drops in the spring. Only it's February, and the pines aren't dropping yet. I unpack my clothes and lay my makeup and stuff on the dresser. It doesn't take long. Most everything from our apartment in DC went into storage. It's hard to believe how much my life's changed in two weeks.
I check my phone, thinking I'll call Iris. She'll be in the school newsroom, finishing up the layout for the next issue of the Westfield Word. But there's no signal. I should have guessed that. Granny's house is tucked up in a hollow (or, as people here call it, a "holler"). The steep hills on either side mean I'll have to hike up to the ridge just to get my messages.
Which I do, because there's nothing else to do. Granny is snoozing on the couch as I walk by. The dogs follow me across the yard, all wagging tails and happy panting. Granny must not walk them much anymore. I pass the apple tree and turn up a tiny path that disappears into a rhododendron thicket. I'm pretty impressed with myself for even finding it. Five minutes later, I'm panting harder than the dogs, climbing steadily through the trees toward the gray sky above.
One foot in front of the other, I tell myself. Volleyball hasn't exactly conditioned me for climbing, and the trail is steep. By the time I hit the ridge, I'm totally out of breath. I stand with my hands on my knees as Silkie and Beethoven streak down the other side after some rabbit or vole.
I squint after them, wondering if they'll come back or if I should chase them down. And that's when I see it. Or rather, don't see it. Tanner's Peak. The whole top of the freaking mountain ... it's just gone.
Instead of a rocky point poking through the trees, there's just raw dirt, hundreds of feet lower than it should be. It's covered with roads and equipment of every kind — big diggers, little diggers, bulldozers, an army of dump trucks, and a behemoth crane. It looks like they're getting ready to build a mall or something, except for the huge square pond halfway down the slope. It's filled with water — not natural water, but sludgy swirls of brown and electric green.
I'm wondering what they did with the rest of the mountain when I realize the valley floor is only half as deep as it used to be, and filled with raw dirt, rocks, and tree roots. They must have carved off the top third and dumped it into the valley between Tanner's Peak and the next hill over.
Excerpted from "Dig Too Deep"
Copyright © 2016 Amy Allgeyer.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed reading Dig Too Deep, a story about Liberty Briscoe, a teenager who moves back in with her grandmother in Appalachia, when her mother is jailed for environmental activism. Liberty finds out that the local coal mine which is engaging in a highly destructive practice called Mountaintop Removal is responsible for allowing toxic chemicals to poison some of the local residents, including her own grandmother, and covering it up. Liberty stands up for what is right and learns some lesson about herself and her family along the way. I liked the wise straight-talking character of Liberty's Granny. It is a nice change to read a teen novel which takes on such an important environmental issue. The story is well-written and well-paced.
4.5 stars* Dig Too Deep is a story about what happens when mining and the love of money affect a small town. There's politics, secrets, two sides to every story, and a whole lot of digging around, as Liberty visits her grandmother (and mother's home town) and learns that, when it comes to the town's (and Granny's) symptoms, there's a whole lot more than meets the eye. Not only is Dig Too Deep an educational look at mining and how it can destroy a community, but it's also a three-generation story about headstrong family members and the steps they all take to protect what matters to them. Sometimes the very characteristic you can't stand about someone is the very thing that helps you get the job done! (*cough* Liberty and her mom *cough*) I highly recommend Dig Too Deep for readers of ALL ages, YA**, and up, and can't wait to read what Amy writes next. *I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. **higher YA, due to swearing and drug use
I absolutely adored this book. From the well-drawn characters, gripping plot and a hard-hitting insight into mountaintop removal mining, this story had me entranced from the first page. Allgeyer skilfully portrays complex characters dealing with all sorts of difficult situations, including terminal illness and addiction, poverty and fear. I found the relationships in the book real, honest, and heartbreaking at times. Liberty, the main character, has had her world turned upside down but the reality is that life must continue. Even when facing terrible news, Liberty is still under pressure to do well at school and build a relationship with the one person she can’t forgive. As she struggles to make sense of her new world, she also questions her own identity – and this is at the core of the narrative throughout. This is a book that makes you really think about morals, hardship, loyalties and above all the courage it takes to stand up for what you believe in. I loved the ending and felt so proud of Liberty. DIG TOO DEEP is a harrowing but beautifully told story, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I HIGHLY recommend this book.
What a terrific, powerful, vivid, good-hearted, SMART-hearted novel. I hate reciting plots, which you can read above anyway, so I'll just say I loved not just the book's deep social conscience, but its subtle and gripping depiction of all kinds of relationships: between a girl and her ailing grandmother, between a girl and the best friend she misses back home, between a girl and her absent, semi-useless mother, between a girl and the boys she's attracted to (but is too smart to fall in love with), between people and their town, between a evil corporation and the natural world. Go read this thing. There is not another novel like it.
This book, like it's main character Liberty, is fierce! Liberty is driven and determined. When she realized the coal mining company in town is responsible for contaminating the water (and her grandmother's sickness) she goes after the big bad mining company and absolutely refuses to back down. This debut is both engaging and empowering. I can't wait for more from this author.
Dig Too Deep by Amy Allgeyer is a young adult novel. Liberty Briscoe has to leave Washington, D.C. because her mother, Jamie is in jail. The trial will not be for approximately fourteen months. Liberty is going to her grandmother’s home in Ebbottsville, Kentucky. Granny is happy to see Liberty (it has been a few years since they last saw each other). Liberty finds that her grandmother is not well. She also finds that their water is orange. Peabody Mining Company has decimated a nearby mountain and are destroying the local water (Granny uses well water). Granny states that Robert Peabody had the water tested and the company said it was okay to drink (did you notice who paid for the testing). Liberty takes Granny to the doctor and finds out that Granny has cancer (already stage four). Granny is not the only townsperson who is ill. It seems that many people on the Eastern side of the mountain (with well water) are ill and quite a few are dead. Liberty starts investigating. She is determined to get the mine shut down. However, Robert Peabody (and people who support him) are against Liberty’s digging. Then a shed catches on fire at Briscoe Farm. This is just the start. Liberty will not be stopped. Who will win the battle? When I started reading Dig Too Deep, I thought it was going to be another young adult book with a girl hooked on a boy (there is some of that), but Dig Too Deep has much more. The novel drew me in and held my interest until the end (for the most part). I am not sure that Dig Too Deep is giving the right message to young adults about how to handle such matters, but I do like the ending of the novel. I give Dig Too Deep 4 out of 5 stars. Please be aware that there is a scene in the book where there is violence to a dog (fair warning). I received a complimentary copy of Dig Too Deep from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is the story of Liberty, a teenage girl sent off to live with her grandmother in rural Kentucky while her activist mother faces criminal charges for a protest gone wrong. Two idioms come to mind when I think about Liberty's story: Fish out of water: That's what this girl, far from her Washington DC prep school, is. Liberty doesn’t look down on her new home; on the contrary, she loves the mountain and her grandmother and just wants to find a place, as far away from her neglectful mother as she can. But finding acceptance is complicated by the fact that… The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: Much as she rails against her mother's focus on causes instead of her daughter, Liberty shares that stubborn resistance to injustice and willingness to stand up for what she believes in. So when it becomes clear that her grandmother and many other residents are being poisoned by runoff from the local Mountaintop Removal Mining facility, Liberty is determined to do something. With the whole town scared to go up against the wealthy mine owner for fear of losing their jobs or even their lives, Liberty faces an uphill battle. This book will stay with me for a long time. Liberty is such a believable, passionate character, and the descriptions of her experiences in Appalachia are absolutely visceral. The forces she was up against were so great, I wasn't sure a satisfying ending was going to be possible. How could she hold to her nonviolent principles when she was literally going up against a murderer? But she cleverly finds a way, and, like most struggles against injustice, it is not complete, but it's a step in the right direction.
Oh, this book! I thought I knew what I was in for when I chose to read an ARC of this debut. Kentucky. Coal country. Corrupt mining practices and the all-encompassing impact that environmental devastation can have on a community. And one teen girl who saw the wreckage first hand. Well, I wasn’t prepared for Allgeyer’s ability to create this singular sense of place on the page, making me experience all the stark and all the lush at once. I wasn’t prepared for how much she made me love pragmatic and fearless Granny, how this character would burrow into my heart and pulse there. I was truly unprepared for how much I would root for Liberty as she combed her way through corruption and love and trust and forgiveness. Even Allgeyer’s secondary characters experience glorious character arcs that are important and interconnected and tightly woven into this feverish plot. This debut, for me, was remarkable. It is filled with the power of simple moments. It pulses with ageless wisdom as well as heartbreak. It is a story of advocacy and making peace with your roots, your family. It is a story of fighting for what you believe in. Fighting for the natural beauty our country affords. Fighting for love. This is a story that will stay with me for a very long time, and will forever connect mountains with starfish. Because as Allgeyer’s book proves, everything is connected.