A Review: Heartwood by Nikky Finney

First, a little about the author. Nikky Finney was born in Conway, SC, and is a poet. She
was an English professor for 20 years at the University of Kentucky. She was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry

good-oneI haven’t sat down and read a new book, of my own volition, in a long, long time. There’s just so much I have to read for my AP classes, and I’d lost the habit over the last couple of years.But this book made me fall in love with reading all over again.

Heartwood is set in rural Kentucky in the late 90’s, and is a tale of two women from very different worlds. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, , so this will mostly be highlighting the things I liked about the book.

  • I adore her descriptions. The way Finney crafts her language makes you feel like you’re truly in the place she’s describing, but she isn’t so rigid in her descriptions that you can’t use your imagination. I particularly love the phrase “tiny shotgun houses all painted ice-cream colors” that she uses when describing one of the towns.
  • The names of places are so unique! Queen Ida’s Hair Doing House of Waves and The Church of the Holy Whiteness are two of the best place names I’ve ever read
  • It reads like a short film, almost. It isn’t a complex plot. There are no long explanations of anything. The story tells itself. I admire and wish to emulate that straightforward style in my own writing, as I have a tendency to ramble (can’t you tell?). The characters are, like the setting, well described but still leave room for imagination. Finney doesn’t go full Tolkien and describe each person all the way down to the exact shape of their fingernails.
  • The overall theme is racial tension, and I enjoy how she talks about race outside the usual perspective. Despite its setting in the 90’s, there are still instances of fierce racism and prejudice. The contrast between the towns of Luketown and Stone Creek is striking, which is another feature of the story I truly enjoy. She shows perspectives on race from one extreme to the other; from white supremacists, to black people with a hatred for whites.
  • The one part I disliked (but also loved) was the way it ended. It was one of those endings where you think it’s the end of a chapter, but it’s actually the end of the book. It leaves you desperate to find out what happens, but the story is so satisfying that you’re ok never knowing.

It’s just one of those small town, offbeat stories that are wonderful. It’s unique, and feels real while still being a bit more than reality. You feel something beautiful while you read it, and by the time you’re done, you know this is a special book you’ll never forget.

I started reading it the other night, went to sleep reading it, and as soon as I woke up the next morning, I read it until I finished. I chose to read this book over checking Instagram as soon as my eyes were open. As a 16 year old girl, that’s saying a lot.I’m just so happy I finally got to enjoy reading again. I didn’t have to do an assignment based on this book or answer questions to test my comprehension of what I read. I sat down and read this book because it sparked my interest, and now it has relit the fire for reading that died when reading became a chore instead of an escape. I am grateful for having read this book.

Now, onto the next one.


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