Small Town America: A Review of Rural Voices

Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America
Edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now
Ages 14-18

In the introduction to this new collection, editor Nora Shalaway Carpenter recounts a childhood experience in which a stranger, upon learning she was from West Virginia, made a comment that instilled shame in her, based on where she lived. That comment stuck with her, and the feeling of being “less than” runs throughout this #OwnVoices anthology. The intention behind the anthology is to counteract the stereotypes of rural America, showing that it is not a monolith. The authors create stories, verse, and images that contain a multitude of states, ethnicities, sexualities, and economic realities—common to all is a question of what belonging, acceptance, and justice really mean. Self-acceptance is at the heart of the collection, where in so many of these stories, the protagonist must grapple with who they are and who the world assumes them to be. David Bowles’ “A Border Kid Comes of Age” is a free verse exploration of one young man’s attempt to claim his bisexual identity and still remain part of the family that he loves. Bowles’ poetry is linear and heavy, resonating beyond the bounds of the lead character’s geography. Tirzah Price’s “Best in Show” gives its narrator Molly the romantic-comedy outcome of her dreams—a date with her crush Amoreena—only it’s against the backdrop of the Mekawnee County Fair while she’s bathing her prize pig, Herbert; definitely not how she envisioned their romance blossoming. Molly struggles to reconcile her different worlds, and be noticed in a way that is not in her control. Many stories embrace their hometown while others grapple with finding their place in it. Rural Voices captures the different specifics of rural teen life, while embracing how belonging and identity are common lived experiences; this is a beautiful addition to any teen collection.