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Velva Jean Learns to Drive (Velva Jean #1)

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  2,988 ratings  ·  476 reviews
In this spellbinding debut, Velva Jean Hart finds true love-and then risks everything to follow her dreams

Set in Appalachia in the years before World War II, Velva Jean Learns to Drive is a poignant story of a spirited young girl growing up in the gold- mining and moonshining South.

Before she dies, Velva Jean's mother urges her to "live out there in the great wide worl
Paperback, 404 pages
Published July 28th 2009 by Plume (first published May 4th 2009)
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Community Reviews

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What a powerful and moving book about finding and pursuing your dreams.

In this Southern fiction coming of age novel, Velva Jean marries Harley Bright at the tender age of 16. Constrained by her role as a preacher's wife and blocked in by her life on the mountain, her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry begins to fade. But later a new dream emerges . . . Velva Jean wants to learn to drive.

I found the characters well developed and real and the plot engaging. Perhaps my favourite character outsi
“Nature doesn't deal with straight lines . . . There are no straight lines anywhere and that goes for pathways too. You can look for them but they don’t exist . . . You have to expect nature to curve and have bumps and that’s the thing you can count on. Life is that way too.”

Once in a blue moon a book finds its way into your hands, quietly seeping into your pores, gently thundering, permeating your every thought, consuming you heart and soul – so much so, reality ceases to exist as you are tran
I found this book delightful. Velva Jean is a true survivor with a wonderful heart. The storyline is nothing new and there are no twists to be found, but you will fall in love with Velva Jean and her family. She speaks some truisms that are spot on, and it's a good old fashioned read which shows what it was like to live in NC/Appalachia country in the 1930's. Velva Jean has spunk and independence and a kind heart. The book reminded me a bit of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird - a young girl making ...more
A quiet, well written, gentle tale set in the North Carolina mountains near our cabin in Rabun County Georgia. The time is the 1930's, knee deep in the Depression and in the building of the Blue Ridge Scenic Parkway. Characters were well drawn, intimate and complete. No stereotypes or straw-men.

Velva Jean first appears at about age 9 or 10, just as she is being saved by Jesus and just before her beloved mother dies. She loves her mama, her brother and her singing, and dreams of heading to Nashv
I loved this novel about a very young woman in Appalachia during the time that a highway is being built through the Appalachian mountains. This change is being implemented and accepted (or not) in many ways. Velva Jean falls in love and marries a charismatic preacher boy, Harley Bright, who suffers injuries in a train wreck and whose personality begins to change. He becomes very possessive and suppresses her longings to be and do more. Lucky for Velva, she has a cast of people in her life who en ...more
I am speechless. I have to put this book right up there with "The Help" and a few others I've found amazing and which greatly moved me. I would call it "historical, Southern fiction" by a very talented woman. Its about the people living in the Mountains up around where South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky all come together before the Blue Ridge Parkway was built and how the coming of that road affected and changed their lives. Many were excited, many were afraid. Its about judging ...more

Lovely! Sweet!
This book takes place in North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains during the late '30's. It is a time of expansion in the United States with roads being built by the CCC. The Blue Ridge Highway is coming into the area where Velva Jean has spent her whole life.
Velva Jean narrates in her dialect.
It follows her from the age of 10 to maturity.
Learning to drive is symbolic of her learning to be herself/maturing/following her dreams. The
Blue Ridge Highway is symbolic of looking out o
This book was a little hard to get into at first and yet strangely I could not put it down. We first meet Velva Jean when she is 10 years old and watch as she grows older, marries and has to make a decision about pursuing her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry. I had to really get myself into the right frame of mind for this book. It takes place in the early 1930s and continues into the early 40s. So there were a lot of things that I was shaking my head over. I couldn’t believe that it was u ...more
I adore Velva Jean--her naive 10-year old self all the way through to maturity. I read most of this book in the middle of the night rocking my sleepless baby. I nearly woke her with shrieks and gasps during some exciting bits of plot--like when Velva Jean was being chased by a panther, and had to rip off her dress and throw it to the animal to aid her escape.

And when she finally climbs behind the wheel having taught herself to drive, I truly felt her desperation and liberation. A yellow truck a
Donna Jo Atwood
Growing up in 1930s Appalachia Velva Jean dreams of being a big-time singer in Nashville, even as she is bounded by a life restricted by the mountains of home.
But Velva Jean clings to her Momma's dying words to "live out ther in the great wide world" and uses them as a touchstone for discovery. Growing up is not always easy or straight forward, but it can and does make an interesting story.
Parts of this book reminded me a little of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Sandy Denholm
What a wonderful book. To follow Vela Jean in her journey in life. To marry so young and to have the determination to learn to drive. Her sassyness and always yearning for more was wonderful to read about. A book that I really enjoyed. I would recommend this book to anyone.
WOW, this book hooked me from the first word. I just finished it and have been in tears as it's so moving and powerful. I LOVED it! The author has an amazing way to have the main character, Velva Jean, talk to you, the reader and make you feel totally at home in her world of innermost thoughts that most others don't know. We see her grow, develop and transform from the age of ten to twenty. We see her endure tragedies, experience triumphs, explore and ask questions in the 1930's-1940's pre-war e ...more
I love southern fiction. If it's done well, by people who know what they're talking about. This book is set during the depression and the sepia toned plot reminds me in some was of O Brother, Where art Thou? and also, of my family. I think it's interesting that for certain groups of people, even in a society where technology is prevalent, they're still essentially the same people they were during Prohibition. I'm not sure if that's comforting or scary for me. But yeah, this book was sweet. It's ...more
Cathy Brownfield
I love this book. I found it at a dollar store. The title reached out and grabbed me.

Velva Jean is 10 when the story opens in 1933 near Alluvial, North Carolina. She thinks being saved in Three Gum River will make life perfect. But that is when Daddy goes away leaving nothing but a note for Mama to find and there are a lot of things that go wrong, starting with Mama taking to her sickbed. Velva Jean blames her daddy for all of it. Why didn't he stay and take care of them all? Why was he always
I bought Velva Jean at my favorite book store, where the staff provide small hand-written reviews of some of the books and attach them to the book shelves. I liked the review written for the book so I went for it. I was not disappointed. Velva Jean Learns to Drive will transport you to a beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain setting and a simpler time. It features a cast of characters whom you will grow to love, and sometimes hate, and you will be proud as Velva Jean breaks free of restraints she has li ...more
Jessica Leigh
I met the author Jennifer Niven through my work when I read her book "The Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town" about her years at the same high school I attended. I enjoyed that book, and her company so much I went out and read her first work, "The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk". I then snagged a copy of "Velva Jean Learns to Drive". I loved this story, I felt wrapped in the beautiful surroundings of Velva Jeans mountains. I grew to love the characters that all ...more
At the tender age of ten, Velva Jean is saved in the cool Appalachian waters, only to have her life change drastically after, one cruel event at a time. But Velva Jean has a dream, a big dream.

Set in the North Carolina section of the Appalachian Mountains not far from Asheville during the Depression. Beginning in 1933, not long before the Blue Ridge Parkway construction begins which impacts on everyone on Fair Mountain, home to Velva Jean.

I loved the references to the location, the small detai
It took me a while to get into this book. It dragged until about half-way through and then it got more interesting.

I was amazed at what a jerk Velva Jean's husband was! He made me so mad at times. After he forbade her to drive and sing I had to put the book down for a while. I contemplated what I would do with a husband like that and well, the conclusion I arrived at was not pretty. :P

I could really identify with Velva Jean's aspirations since I love to sing and write songs. (Though, I don't wan
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
I listened to this in audio because Jenna Lamia (The Invention of Wings) narrated it. She gives another stellar narration, and elevated this story. Velva Jean Learns to Drive dragged for me and it took a great length of time before Velva Jean does learn to drive and for her to achieve her dreams about making music and playing at the Grand Old Opry. A good hardscrabble southern story, but perhaps a little too long for my liking.
I LOVED THIS BOOK!! I am really starting to love southern fiction - books like Secret Life of Bees, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Wish You Well, and now this book. I always had a hard time putting this book down. Its a sweet and sometimes bittersweet story about coming of age in the 1930's and in Appalachia. Women's roles back then were so different but I was so enchanted by Velva Jean I didn't have time to be upset about in those days, women's education took a backseat to helping around the home and ...more
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I recommend this book to those who enjoy reading Southern fiction. The coming of age story revolves around Velva Jean, who is first introduced as a 10-year old being raised by her older sister after her mother dies and father walks away. She is determined to learn to drive and sing at the Grand Ole Opry. Velva Jean is expected to put her dreams on the back-burner once she becomes a preacher's wife. Life is not easy living in 1930's Appalachia. This is an engaging story with some wonderful (and n ...more
Joan Grubbs
I don't write many reviews, but I want to spread the world about this wonderful book. Author Jennifer Niven has created a character that will make you laugh and cry as you cheer on Velva Jean on her poignant journey. From a little girl growing up in the Appalachians of North Carolina in the 1930's, losing her mama at an early age, marrying young and truly becoming her own person, Velva Jean will not disappoint! I am giving this book five stars, and if possible, I would give it six!! That's how r ...more
Becky Clark
I’ve blogged before of my love for Haven Kimmel’s A GIRL NAMED ZIPPY.

Velva Jean is very reminiscent of Zippy. A backwoods Zippy, maybe. Or maybe Zip is a suburban Velva Jean. Such a Sophie’s choice to choose favorites, though. Thank goodness I can have them both!

VELVA JEAN LEARNS TO DRIVE is a coming-of-age story about finding your dreams that will make you laugh out loud and then shatter your heart. Again and again and again.

Velva Jean’s dying mother tells her to live her life in the great big
Vivid and interesting girl>>woman story set in early 1900s Appalachia. Love the family characters, images of daily life, the social scene in the isolated community and the personalized examples of how technology and transportation changes were affecting Velva, her neighbors and the regional hill culture. A tale of how we can lay down our young dreams for what (at the time) seems to be the right course, but the unanswered longing may revist and demand action as our life unfolds.
I picked this up after a long, arduous read (The Orenda, Joseph Boyden) because I needed something light and breezy to cleanse my palate. It turned out to be much more substantive than I expected--thoroughly enjoyable.
Velva Jean grows up in 1930's Southern Appalachia at a time when everything starts to change. She's a strong woman character who grows and finds her way in her world at a time an place it wasn't very easy to do so.

I can't wait to see where her dreams and life take her. The author plans this as a six book series - book two, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, is out this year. Book 3 is being written.
I could not put this down. Sorry to friends this is one I will keep and not pass on. It is one that someday in my old age I hope to read again.
I feel in love with Velva Jean who as a girl had dreams but life and love took her on a different path. I enjoyed reading about that path and found myself rooting for her through the book.
The story took about 300 of the 400 pages to build up enough steam to get me over the mountain. I thought the characters were ho-hum. The author finally brought me to the end kicking and screaming...however after reading other reviews, I'm not exactly sure what I missed, but will not be reading again to figure out.

I really wanted to like this book. It had its moments, but at times it bored me to tears. There were many points in the story, that would have made good endings, however, I found myself putting it down to not pick it up again for several days as the story continued to plod along. Not terrible, but not my favorite.
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By the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, a poem for Parker Stevenson ("If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win"), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder's sister en ...more
More about Jennifer Niven...

Other Books in the Series

Velva Jean (4 books)
  • Velva Jean Learns to Fly
  • Becoming Clementine
  • American Blonde
All the Bright Places The Ice Master: The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk Velva Jean Learns to Fly Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic Becoming Clementine

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“For the most part, the people are the same. Everyone wants something to believe in. Everyone wants someone to love.” 4 likes
“Music did that to me, just like God was supposed to, because music seemed both magic and holy.” 3 likes
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