Mine by Katie Crawford

I review Mine by Katie Crawford.

Perhaps it would have been different if the baby girl had lived.

Perhaps Maggie and Janie would have stayed, a house of four women and only one wandering man. Maybe then their Daddy would have been the only one left searching. They might have grown old together there, then married, raised their babies in the scattered shadows of the coal breaker, put their hopes for a better life into the next generation, content with their own destiny. But life slipped from that baby secretly, was gone before they had a chance to say her name. Born as a spirit she unmoored all of them from the land beneath their feet, sending them mapless into the world, perpetually aching for what was left behind. One tiny soul carried four lives in her infant palm, each one falling somewhere different the further she drifted away.

Mine is the fictional story of two sisters, Maggie and Janie, bonded by the loss of their sister and later their mother. The girls begin their life in the coal region of Pennsylvania, but it becomes abundantly clear that Maggie is determined to find a way out. As the sisters’ lives diverge in unexpected ways, we learn how they remain both entwined and distant, their shared past resurfacing regardless of their distance from home.

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This is a real story. Let me explain what I mean by that. When I read books like this, books that span a lifetime, that are told through the decades, I feel as if I should be sitting on a porch, with the storyteller in a rocking chair next to me. That’s what I mean when I say this is a real story. It feels real. It could be real. Parts of it might be.

Mine opens with the death of a baby. Maggie and Janie’s mother becomes catatonic after her loss, finally passing away. Their father, already an alcoholic, continues to drink himself to death. Maggie and Janie, sisters, must come together to carry on, but Maggie has other plans. The sisters couldn’t be more different. Maggie is older, fed up with living in a small, coal-mining town, with bigger ambitions. Janie, the younger sister, is fine with pottering around; the town is enough for her. Until she’s taken advantage of by a young vicar, and becomes pregnant.

It’s the 1950s. Women’s rights have come some way, but even now, women fight for their right to have an abortion. Janie had no choice – a young, unmarried, unemployed mother, with an alcoholic father and nobody else to support her – she had to give the baby up. And she regrets it for the rest of her life.

Maggie goes off to college, becomes a nurse, marries a doctor. She pops out a ridiculous number of children, lives in a huge house, and enjoys her higher status. Janie comes to live with Maggie to help her with the first baby, but she never leaves. She continues to help with all of the children, and loves them as if they were her own, but she still grieves for the child she gave away.

Mine is a tragic story of family, love, and social mobility, incredibly moving, yet enjoyable.

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