Book Review: Daughters of Green Mountain Gap by Teri M. Brown

  • Title: Daughters of Green Mountain Gap
  • Author: Teri M. Brown
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Rural Fiction, Family Drama
  • Would I recommend: Wholeheartedly. Teri M. Brown writes characters and weaves stories that you can feel down in your bones.

Synopsis:

An Appalachian granny woman. A daughter on a crusade. A granddaughter caught between the two.

Maggie McCoury, a generational healer woman, relies on family traditions, folklore, and beliefs gleaned from a local Cherokee tribe. Her daughter, Carrie Ann, believes her university training holds the answers. As they clash over the use of roots, herbs, and a dash of mountain magic versus the medicine available in the town’s apothecary, Josie Mae doesn’t know whom to follow. But what happens when neither family traditions nor science can save the ones you love most?

Daughters of Green Mountain Gap weaves a compelling tale of Maggie, Carrie Ann, and Josie Mae, three generations of remarkable North Carolina women living at the turn of the twentieth century, shedding light on racism, fear of change, loss of traditions, and the intricate dynamics within a family. Author Teri M. Brown skillfully navigates the complexities of their lives, revealing that some questions are not as easy to answer as one might think.

I’ve fallen in love with Teri M. Brown’s marvelous historical fiction (read my reviews for Sunflowers Beneath the Snow and An Enemy Like Me). I had high hopes for Daughters of Green Mountain Gap. Did it deliver? You know it did!

Daughters of Green Mountain Gap follows the stories of three generations of McCoury women: Maggie, her daughter Carrie Ann, and her granddaughter Josie Mae. Maggie is a granny woman, a healer. The story opens with Maggie walking away from her old life, banishing herself to a life alone where she thinks she can atone for her failings and do no more harm. We then flash back to different points in the past to see events unfold.

Maggie becomes a granny woman in the tradition of women in her family. She adds her own unique twist to her skills by learning from the medicine man of a Cherokee tribe in the same area. Her association with the Indians doesn’t always sit well with the people of Green Mountain Gap, but they value and respect Maggie and her skills as a healer.

Carrie Ann, Maggie’s daughter, absolutely does not respect her mother’s healing abilities and belittles her reliance on generations of folk learning and wisdom. She bucks her mother at every opportunity possible, and sometimes she’s simply horrible to Maggie as only a young woman who thinks she knows it all can be. She thinks Maggie wasted time getting help for her father, and if she’d only gotten him to a proper doctor sooner, he wouldn’t have died.

Carrie Ann is interested in healing, though, just not the way her mother does it. She leaves her daughter, Josie Mae, in Maggie’s care when she heads off to the big city to learn “real” medicine. So Josie Mae grows up largely under her grandmother’s tutelage, and she soaks up the granny woman learning eagerly, as the young so often do. But as she grows older, she struggles to know which path she should take: that of the granny woman, or that of the science-based medical professional.

I think I’ve said it before in my other reviews, but I’ll say it again in case y’all missed it: If you want a historical fiction read that is thoroughly researched, that will draw you right into the time and place the author writes about and make you feel like you are THERE, you need to read Teri M. Brown’s books. I felt like I was walking the hills of Green Mountain Gap with Maggie and Josie, like I was learning the Cherokee healing lore. I felt the winter cold as I scrolled through pages. Brown gives the reader an immersive experience with the details and descriptions of her stories.

We hear a lot about strong female characters these days, and it seems like a lot of TV shows and movies are very fond of the idea of the “girl boss.” You know, the one who can do anything a man can do, But Better. Here, Brown gives us wonderfully capable and complicated women as her main characters. They are all strong in their unique ways, in ways that only women can be. They aren’t acting like they have anything to prove to the world (okay, maybe Carrie Ann is, because she wants to prove that she’s Right and Maggie is Wrong). They aren’t trying to compete with or one-up men, even when they work with and learn from them. They’re handling the hard business of healing, of relationship, of love, of life and death, and all three of them are marvelous.

The story deals with some chewy topics, one of them being racism. As I mentioned, not everyone takes kindly to Maggie associating with and learning from the Cherokee. Carrie Ann is very outspoken in her disapproval of Maggie’s seeking alternative knowledge, and there is at least one instance where it looks like things may come to blows with someone thinking Maggie needs “rescuing” from her Cherokee friend. But people in the town still came to Maggie for her wisdom, even when Carrie Ann returned with an actual doctor in tow. I loved that Brown showed the flip side of the racism coin with the doctor’s acceptance of and interest in Maggie’s healing methods, both granny woman traditions and the things she learned from the Cherokee. I also found it fascinating that Brown made the connection between Cherokee medicine and healing practices and Maggie’s Christian faith. As she tries to explain to Carrie Ann, they may call him by different names, but she and the Cherokee are both calling out to the same God for healing. Maggie didn’t see a conflict with using rituals the Cherokee shared with her as long as her faith and her focus was on her God while she performed those actions.

We see the McCoury women wrestle with the clash between old ways and new, difficult family dynamics, loss of a loved one, and serious illness. It takes a crisis to bring things to a head, and much hangs in the balance. Can Maggie lay down the load of guilt she carries for the ones she couldn’t save? Can Carrie see that she doesn’t know everything and sometimes faith plays just as much of a role in healing as medical science? Will Josie Mae be able to reconcile past and present to forge her own path? Grab the book and find out.

If you enjoy a story with well-crafted characters that you will love and cheer for and cry for, I highly recommend Daughters of Green Mountain Gap. Only January, and this is in the running for my best books of 2024. Teri M. Brown is one of my must-read authors and one of the best historical fiction writers I’ve had the pleasure to read. Get to know the McCoury women. Their story will stick with you long after the final page has turned.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from the author and Atmosphere Press. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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