Verdict: Deftly written, OVER THE MOUNTAIN is a charming and heartwarming story with a likeable protagonist growing up in 1960s Alabama.
Harriet Oechsner’s family has just moved again, forced out of her minister father’s parish in Florida because of his politically liberal views. Harriet’s father lands a new job in Mountain Brook, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. Harriet, a high school sophomore, must adjust to a new school (her third in as many years) and a new group of friends. OVER THE MOUNTAIN follows her as she grows from the new girl at school into a confident young woman heading off to college.
The story sometimes moves a bit slowly, but OVER THE MOUNTAIN is otherwise deftly written and populated with likeable characters. Harriet’s high school years will strike a chord of nostalgia with anyone who lived through the era, but even those who were not teenagers in the 1960s will be reminded of their own adolescence. Harriet’s experiences are not very far removed from those of modern young people. She struggles to fit in, tries out for the cheerleading squad, and dates boys.
While OVER THE MOUNTAIN takes place in a politically turbulent time, Harriet’s life does not seem to be impacted too much by the growing civil rights movement. She is aware of the injustice surrounding her, and angered by it, but it is her father who actively works for change. Like many teenagers, Harriet isn’t too focused on politics. Her life is a happy one, shaken only by the typical pangs of adolescence.
The book dwells less on the actual history of the period and focuses instead on the emotional journey of someone living through it. Seeing the civil rights era through the eyes of a suburban teenager provides a rare viewpoint. Rather than detracting from the unrest of the time, OVER THE MOUNTAIN instead juxtaposes it with the relative normalcy of day-to-day life for many Americans, providing an almost surreal look at the time period.
OVER THE MOUNTAIN might not exactly break new ground, but it doesn’t need to. Stillerman captures the universal experience of growing up in a well-written and engaging story and Harriet’s journey into adulthood is a timeless coming-of-story. OVER THE MOUNTAIN isn’t filled with much action, but it is packed with heart, and will resonate with readers.
~Christine-Marie Liwag Dixon for IndieReader