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On Agate Hill

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  3,278 Ratings  ·  458 Reviews
On Agate Hill: A Novel
Hardcover, 367 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by A Shannon Ravenel Book (first published January 1st 2006)
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Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
I hardly know where to start with this review. The book begins in the years following the civil war told mainly from journal entries and letters. Molly as a 14 year old writes, "I want to live so hard and love so much I will use myself all the way up like a candle, it seems to me like this is the point of it all, not Heaven”

The rest of the book details how she lives her life up like a candle. She leads a tragic life from the very first "dear diary," and although there are wonderful times filled
May 21, 2009 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of sagas and Civil War history
Lee Smith has a lovely way with words and history and tells an enthralling tale, following orphan Molly Petree from childhood to old age. The voice of each character is distinct and engaging. Now that I'm done, I miss these characters!
Jul 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: appalachia
I can't say that I love this book quite as much as my first novel by Lee Smith -- Fair and Tender Ladies -- but those are some huge shoes to fill.

Two of Lee Smith's biggest strengths are her ability to create a profound sense of loss in a reader and her talent for creating a sense of place. My favorite books often stick with me less in terms of plot and more like memories from my own life -- in fragmented but lucid snapshots of place. I remember my own childhood mostly as a series of places: a
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Having been disappointed by my last read of Lee Smith, a friend and fellow Smith reader was quick to get this book into my hands to restore my pleasure in Smith's writing. It worked.

The character of Molly from her childhood through an unexpected (for the reader) and long life is one who proves herself to be "a spitfire and a burden...a refugee girl" as she describes herself. This remains true throughout. Her story is compelling, her voice is authentic, and the many surrounding characters are al
Nov 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: i-own-it
This was a fairly good book, though I felt the different places and people in them felt a little disconnected. That is, it felt almost like I was reading a different book in different places, despite the main character being in all of them. It spans the main character's life, and when she moves places, she is surrounded my completely new people, and each stage in her life is narrated by a different person, but it still didn't quite mesh together for me. Still, it was a good story. An interesting ...more
Rachel Crooks
May 09, 2010 rated it liked it
I was captivated by the honesty of this little girl's narrative. I always love a story in which the characters have no pretenses - and the world she is trying to grow up in (Reconstruction-era South) is falling apart, one page at a time, one layer at a time, one person at a time, and she is making sense of it in the best way she can. I kept wondering what was ahead for her, and was always surprised. There is something both gruesome and fascinating about this book - it has a lingering sense of Mi ...more
Apr 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
On Agate Hill, by Lee Smith is a historical piece that follows the life of the orphaned Molly Petree. The reader first meets Molly in 1872 at the age of 13. She is living in her uncle’s house and has just begun to keep a journal, which is one of the forms that is used to tell her story. In fact, the whole novel is in the form of journal entries, letters and court documents.

With the epistolary style, a plot is not always easily identified, as is the case with this book. This style of writing gen
Katie Arabis
Mar 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I rarely give 5 stars, but I loved this book. As a southerner myself, with lots of family in the mountainous region of NC, I recognized the dialect of storytelling in Lee Smith's beautiful style. This is how people talk, how they relate to each other. The beauty of everyday discourse. Smith has the gift of being descriptive without being tedious, which is a rare characteristic in an author. This book is long, but I read it in a few days, and finished wishing I had slowed down, taken it in more, ...more
Catherine Read
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have read all of Lee Smith's novels now and I love her work. Born and raised in Southwest Virginia and a graduate of Hollins, she captures the people and history of Appalachia so authentically. This is now among my favorite of her works along with Guests on Earth, Fair and Tender Ladies, The Last Girls, Dirty Linen and Oral History.

We follow Molly Petree from her girlhood following the Civil War in 1872 to her old age in the 1920s. It is at once a sweeping saga and a detailed very personal nar
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historic-fiction
Lee Smith's books are always beautiful and tragic. She has an amazing ability to describe the people of Appalachia and their singular connection to the landscape. On Agate Hill is heartbreaking, but enchanting as it follows the life of Molly from the decimation of her family in the Civil War to her old age in the early 1920's. Even in the historic setting, many readers can empathize with Molly, who attempts to blockade her heart after suffering so much. I won't spoil anything, but Molly's growth ...more
Suzanne Moore
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I randomly picked up this audio book while living in Texas. It turned out to be quite a coincidence that I chose to listen to this book at the precise time that I did. Let me begin with a little background on the novel. First there are two related story lines in this book … a past that contributes to a present.

In the present Tuscany Miller, college student, is living in the mountains of North Carolina with her father and his partner. They have been restoring a recently acquired house into a bed
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Haunting, unforgettable, tragic. It's an epistolary novel comprised of Molly Petree's diary, and excerpts from other characters' diaries and letters, as well as newspaper clippings, songs, and court records.

When the book opens, 13-year-old Molly Petree is living on a plantation named Agate Hill under the protection of her legal guardian, Uncle Junius Hall.

The book spans 50 years of Molly's life. While she suffers many traumatic events, she always recovers, and you admire her strong heart even w
Barb Terpstra
Jan 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm not entirely sure how to describe this book. I can tell you it kept me engaged all the way through. I think it may be one of the strangest books I've ever read.

We have the main character, Molly Petree who has lost everyone she loves - we follow her from her youth to adulthood. She is stubborn, angry, determined, solitary--she calls herself a ghost girl. For much of her young life she pretty much decides what she is going to do it, and then does it. Her running commentary on the other charac
Julie H.
Dec 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I am semi-dreading reading something, I truly love to be proved wrong. Lee Smith's On Agate Hill has provided precisely one of those instances. It's my book group's selection for December and I just started it last night, thinking it will be a long slog through yet-another bit of Civil War fiction. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong!

On Agate Hill is much more than just another epistolatory novel. It consists of two main parts: first, the correspondence between M.A. thesis writer wannabe T
J. Yandell
Jul 18, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked this book, though the big jumps through time bothered me. I understand Smith using the diary and historical documents to tell the story, but big pieces of Molly's life seemed to be missing. It just FEELS wrong.

We are with her so intimately as a child, and through her schooling... but then the story begins to jump. All of sudden, Molly is taking off with Jackie, but we don't see how anyone reacts to this startling development — including her fiancee. Then, just as abruptly, Molly is on tr
Nov 11, 2009 rated it liked it
I have to admit that my expectations were a bit high before I started reading. My ENG111 teacher spoke highly of this writer which prompted me to go to a workshop lecture by the author so I was psyched to read something by her. The writing style changes throughout the book as well as switching the first person character telling the story. If you can handle this I think you will enjoy the book. The main character is certainly interesting and goes through many trials yet makes it through them all ...more
Mirah W
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was my first novel by Lee Smith. It didn't move as quickly as I thought it would after reading the beginning but it was a very good book. Told from the different perspectives of the characters....through diary entries, letters, songs, etc. It was an interesting format and I liked getting the different perspectives. I thought the first half of the book moved slowly. Then things started moving quickly and a lot of time was covered during a character's testimony of some events. I felt that the ...more
Jul 14, 2009 added it
I like Lee Smith's books. The first one of hers I read was Oral History. I think I just stumbled upon it wbile browsing in the library lo these many years ago. Since then I have read several of her books which always involve mountain or rural people in the South (NC, VA or WVa). Her plots aren't deep and her characters can be too good or too bad to be true, but in my opinion what Smith does best is draw pictures of the lives of the people in the times they are living. Agate Hill is set in post C ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
This is an almost great book, but sadly, the ending glides to a lifeless stop that feels like an alternative ending, which doesn't work, or as if the author became ill and a ghost writer had to finish it. Still, it has great appeal in the characters and in the setting, North Carolina after the Civil War. It is a serious book about a realistic woman, from her childhood to the end of her adult life, and she is a woman who does not choose to walk an easier path, despite several opportunities to do ...more
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group
I am not one for reading stories about war, so I was skeptical when our book group selected this one that was presented as "about the Civil War." So I was presently surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I found it to be more a book about an individual and a family in the Civil War period. I liked how the book illustrated the impact of the war on individual's and families in the south, and transported you to an era and place with a fresh perspective. The book is filled with unusual character ...more
Ashley Treadway
Sep 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Hmmmm...I really liked the way this book was written. It's a diary, letters, a few things I can't say here because it would be spoilers. It's historical fiction--a story about the life of a 13 year old orphaned by the civil war. I had a hard time getting engaged with the characters an plot. I loved her teenage years, but didn't like before that or after as much. I had a few questions slash issues: 1. Why were some phrases underlined? 2. What 13 year old can write as eloquently as she does in the ...more
Jul 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I did not read this. I listened to it on tape while traveling to and from Hendersonville. I am not sure how it feels on the page. On tape, it is probably ovelong, but it did hold my attention. It follows the life of orphaned Molly Petree who at 13 has gone to live with her uncle Julius at Agate Hill. The story ends when Molly dies as an old woman back at Agate Hill. Throughout most of her life she is provided for by her father's oldest friend Simon Black.
Jan 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another good read by Lee smith, set after the civil war. The way the story is set up was interesting and believable as I'm sure old diaries are found in old houses. I found the characters to be very well drawn but there were many to keep track of. This story was fascinating and kept my interest throughout. I couldn't wait to get home from work each day to get back into it. Molly was a great protagonist and I didn't want it to end. This would be a good movie.
Jul 15, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I am reading this because Lee Smith was so highly recommended by friends, and I am not impressed. It is a lengthy and dull account of events that could have been much more succinct. The historic characters were listless and the Tuscany Miller character felt like a late addition to frame the story. The contrast between Miller and the Agate Hill characters just made the whole thing tragically shallow.
Nov 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Stephanie, Launi, Natalie
Recommended to Leslie by: Bas bleu
Shelves: favorites, civil-war
I really loved this book. It is the story of Molly Petree, an unfortunate orphan in Post-Confederacy North Carolina. Ignore the first couple of pages (which take place in modern times); there is a gem of a story once Molly's voice begins. If you like Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, or These is My Words, you will love this book.
Dec 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I am not sure why I'd previously rated this book when I don't think I even knew the novel at all. I just began to read it last week. I am now on page 78. I became immediately caught up in the diary of young Molly. I hope I continue loving this book as I already do. The only "down" for me will be reaching the book's end.
I very much loved this novel and highly recommend it to all.
Sep 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wow....I started this book just a few days ago and today I could not put it down! I was spellbound by the characters and could not wait to know what happened to all of them. Lee Smith has done it again with her storytelling of Appalachia territory in the late 1800s.
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this! Magical realism, I love it.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am always intrigued by stories that take place in the south. This is the story of Molly Petree, a 13 yr. old orphan as told through letters and the entries in her diary. She led an extraordinary life in North Carolina during and following the Civil War where she lived at the once prosperous Agate Hill Plantation. Her benefactor, Simon Black, was her father's friend in the war and plays a major role throughout her life both when he is present and when he is absent. Molly is a headstrong, feisty ...more
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Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards.

The sense of place infusing her
More about Lee Smith...

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“But I would do it all again, every bit of it, I would lose him again just to have him again for an hour, for a minute, for even a second. I would do it all again just to see his face.” 12 likes
“Myself I love a thunderstorm better than anything. Sometimes I will run to the top of the hill to whirl around and around on my Indian Rock in the wind, it is like a dance I can not stop. The smell of the lightning goes into your nose and down your whole body. Old Bess says if you get hit by lightning yet live you will have special powers, well I could use some of those. So I don't care if I get hit or not.” 9 likes
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