It's 1875 and the wounds from the Civil War are still raw for the poor and struggling folks of Mississippi. The houses have been razed, the trees burned for fuel, and the men are injured, maimed and mired in sadness. Times are tough and life is full of danger from ruffians and vigilantes. The slaves have been freed, but they are just as tied to white landowners as they ever were. Across the swamp is a wooded no-man's-land called No-Bob, populated by the O'Donnells, a family known for their cruelty, bloodthirstiness and constant unpleasant presence, usually begging for money and food. They marry young, bear children and marry them off to each other.
Addy's father is the meanest and fiercest of all the O'Donnells, and when he leaves his wife and heads for Texas, his bereft wife abandons her daughter to follow him. This leaves Addy in the care of newlyweds Frank and Irene, the schoolmaster and his wife. Addy's extremely rough upbringing has prepared her well she knows how to build a fire, keep a house, build a shed and keep herself alive on next to no food. When her father resurfaces, stealing eggs from Frank's chicken coop, Addy must return to No-Bob with him. Pappy. He is bad and mean and dangerous, but he is still my Pappy, she says. When Addy discovers a devastating secret about her father and his connection to the violence that is running rampant in the area, she makes the hardest decision of her life.
In this sequel to her Civil War novel, How I Found the Strong, Margaret McMullan has created a deeply philosophical, first-person account of life in the Reconstruction era that is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Echoes of the present are impossible to miss life under occupation, the reaction of the insurgent Klan, and aching poverty. It's the kind of book I love, one that makes me want to read everything McMullan has written. Twice.