Reviews for The Last Ballad

by Wiley Cash

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Inspired by the events of an actual textile-mill strike in 1929, Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014, etc.) creates a vivid picture of one woman's desperation.Ella May Wiggins works long, grueling hours in a mill, but it still isn't enough to keep her children fed. The year is 1929, and fed-up workers are fighting for rights like a standard wage, a five-day work week, and equal pay for equal work. Ella's curiosity about the union leads her to attend a rally in a neighboring town, but when she gets up on stage to sing a song that she wrote, she becomes an unexpected star of the labor movement. Her prominence makes her a target for those who view union members as communists, and Ella's belief that African-Americans should be included in the union places her in even more danger. But Ella's voice isn't the only one Cash exploresthere are multiple points of view, including Ella's now-elderly daughter Lilly, an African-American porter named Hampton, and several others whose lives intersect with Ella's. Cash vividly illustrates the difficulties of Ella's life; her exhaustion and desperation leap off the page. She faces extreme hardship in her fight for workers' rights, but it's always clear that she keeps going because of her love for her children. Although it is initially a bit difficult to keep so many points of view straight, it is satisfying to see them all connect. It's refreshing that Cash highlights the struggles of often forgotten heroes and shows how crucial women and African-Americans were in the fight for workers' rights. A heartbreaking and beautifully written look at the real people involved in the labor movement. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
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Cash (A Land More Kind than Home) transports readers into the world of real-life ballad singer Ella May Wiggins, a central figure in workers' battle for unionization in North Carolina textile mills, who was shot and killed on Sept. 14, 1929. Alone, pregnant, caring for six sick children, and frightened of losing her job if she takes another day off, Ella uses her Sunday to hitch a ride to a union gathering. Quickly recognized for her courage after fighting off anti-union attackers, she's asked to share a song with the crowd: "We leave our homes in the morning,/ We kiss our children good-bye./ While we slave for the bosses,/ Our children scream and cry." Her message connects, and she instantly becomes a sensation. With this unlikely platform and her unexpected power, Ella May attempts to integrate unions across North Carolina mills, attracting the wrath of union busters, segregationists, and the powerful wealthy class. This suspenseful, moving novel is a story of struggle and personal sacrifice for the greater good that will resonate with readers of John Steinbeck or Ron Rash. (Oct.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

This third novel from a promising young voice in Southern fiction (A Land More Kind Than Home) concerns a North Carolina woman's fight for workers' rights. By 1929, 28-year-old Ella May Wiggins has had four children, the eldest of whom watches the others while their mother works nights at American Mill No. 2 as a spinner, and a husband who disappeared shortly after a fifth child died in infancy. Hearing of a rally in nearby Gastonia advocating a minimum wage and a 40-hour workweek, Ella May sees no choice but to attend. When asked to speak about mill conditions, she instead delivers a moving song of her own creation, becoming the face of the union struggle-and a target for anti-Communists. As in his previous books, Cash uses various voices from different periods to tell his story, here including a mill owner, a train porter, and Ella May's elderly daughter reflecting on her mother's complicated legacy in 2005. He writes with earnestness and great sympathy but reveals the outcome early, taking the bite out of the story's climax. VERDICT Admirers of Ron Rash's Serena and its Appalachian setting will find much to like here. [See Prepub Alert, 4/10/17.]-Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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