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M.C. Higgins, the Great

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Mayo Cornelius Higgins sits on his gleaming, forty-foot steel pole, towering over his home on Sarah's Mountain. Stretched before him are rolling hills and shady valleys. But behind him lie the wounds of strip mining, including a mountain of rubble that may one day fall and bury his home. M.C. dreams of escape for himself and his family. And, one day, atop his pole, he thinks he sees it—two strangers are making their way toward Sarah's Mountain. One has the ability to make M.C.'s mother famous. And the other has the kind of freedom that M.C. has never even considered.

288 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 1974

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About the author

Virginia Hamilton

96 books214 followers
Virginia Esther Hamilton was the author of forty-one works of fiction and nonfiction. She was the first Black writer awarded the Newbery Medal and the first children’s writer to be named a MacArthur Fellow (the “Genius” grant). She also received the National Book Award and the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 305 reviews
Profile Image for Amber the Human.
589 reviews20 followers
February 10, 2013
I'm sorry to say I didn't really enjoy this book. So far there hasn't been a Newberry Award winner I haven't liked, but I just didn't get this one. To start with, the pole was confusing. It's 40 high, and there's a bicycle seat on top, and pedals that do nothing, and only MC can climb it but it's also a memorial? Huh? This book was like a poem I can't grasp, or like a dream that is confusing and a little disturbing but you can't quite remember what happened or why it bothered you. The writing was alright, but I just found the story tedious and hard to relate to. It takes forever to go through three days in the story, and in the end, it doesn't seem worth it. Oh well.
Profile Image for DaNae.
1,317 reviews73 followers
March 4, 2011
I'm at a loss, I either want to give this book five stars or one. I see by the average of almost exactly three I am not alone.

It took me most of the week to get M.C. read. I’m not sure what I expected, by the title maybe something along the lines of Ramona the Brave or The Great Gilly Hopkins – a mix of audaciousness self-delusion and vulnerability? Come to think of it, I guess that is what I got with M.C., but in such a different package from than what Cleary and Patterson delivered.

Although I have a few questions for the committee that chose this book, I can see why it might have drifted to the top of the top of the list in 1975. I have the desire to discuss this book for hours and days with other readers. I wish to discover what they found that I missed and to share the juicy nuggets that I found so delectable. And to bang my head with others who may have also found it frustratingly slow and tedious.

Hamilton creates such fully realized characters that I was left knowing what M.C.’s, Jones’, or Ben’s reactions would be if placed in an entirely different place and time. Hamilton never tells us what we should think of M.C. instead she shows us a character that is arrogant and dependable, misogynistic and protective, bigoted and loyal. We only see him where he reigns supreme, in the small nucleus of his world on the mountain. We know that he leaves the mountain to go town during the school year, but we never see him out of his element until he visits the Killburn commune, where suddenly his footing, his dignity, and his very perceptions are shaken. (Can I just interject that I loved watching Ben swagger while he was on his home turf.) M.C.’s desire to get off the mountain is at odds with his naïve comprehension of the world at large.

Interspersed between M.C.’s coming of age arc is a story of relationships. As with the other aspects of this book these are exquisitely honed. My favorite is M.C.s relationships with both his parents. I found a profound honesty that I’ve discovered in my life. Children have one relationship with their parents when presented as a united entity and completely different relationship with them individually. The combativeness he has with his father is at odds with the camaraderie he shares his mother, but the authority of who leads the family remains intact.

Hamilton creates such a dense sense of setting that if I were to take a wrong turn some night driving through the Ohio River Valley and stumbled on Sarah’s Mountain, I would be no more lost than The Dude. Granted, I would be plenty disoriented, but able to recognize major landmarks, particularly that odd pole poking up from the crest of the mountain.

It feels like the essence of this story could be distilled down to a few drops of rich broth: Circumstances don’t need to determine destiny. Fresh eyes may be required to expose bigotry. Family is both stifling and expanding. Roots anchor but also encumber.

Hamilton’s stylistic language is gorgeous. I wished more than once that I could hear this read aloud. I wanted the cadence to go with the unique verbiage.

I was also intrigued by the fact that Virginia Hamilton was the first African-American to be awarded the Newbery medal. But unlike Roll of Thunder, I didn’t feel like this was a novel about the American Black experience. It was a novel where the characters happened to be of color Their story extended beyond race. We are still in short supply of books of this ilk today. I did find myself frustrated in what I didn’t know. I wanted to know the broader racial makeup of the nearby communities. Was the town mostly white? Where the mountain folks mostly of color? What was the race of The Dude? How did a runaway slave find the resources to “own” a mountain? The answers are not important to M.C.’s story, and I think Hamilton trusts her reader to infer most of these answers. I can be just a bit denser than the average reader.

M.C. Higgins, the Great is a title that stretches the Newbery caveat, “a book for which children are an intended potential audience”, to its narrowest limit. I keep thinking that if I were to recommend this book to one of my students, the ensuing head-scratching would result in serious hair loss. Because of its subtlety, I also believe pushes the upper age range.

I’ve chosen this year to read my honor’s books from. I have read The Perilous Guard many times and am eager to see what the others have to offer. I figured out that I was eleven when these awards were announced. I secretly think of this age as the prime Newbery target. I would never have been ready for M.C. when it came out.
Profile Image for Gretchen Rubin.
Author 42 books83.7k followers
May 28, 2019
One of my other children's literature reading groups chose this book, and I'm going to miss the meeting, which is very disappointing because I very much want to discuss this book.  I last read it in fifth grade, and I was surprised by how well I remembered it. Haunting, beautiful. I love it when, in a novel, action takes place both in the literal and the symbolic plane, and characters recognize and discuss the symbolic plane.
Profile Image for Sandy D..
1,010 reviews33 followers
May 28, 2015
M.C. Higgins didn't seem all that great to me, unfortunately. I just didn't like the guy that much, even if pole-sitting and wearing lettuce leaves stuck in rubber bands around your wrists greeting the sun was interesting.

I wanted to like this book by Virginia Hamilton. I thought her descriptions of southern Ohio (or was it West Virginia or northern Kentucky?) were magical, and the characters were interesting. The parts about strip-mining were ominous and probably realistic. The witchy six-fingered Killburn family and their vegetable farm enclave were fascinating. The stuff about the dude coming to collect folk music was interesting, and I wished I could hear some of the songs Hamilton described. I loved the historical perspective and the family legends and the whole relationship between the Higgins family and Sarah's Mountain.

But I couldn't get past my initial dislike of M.C. and his father. I didn't like their relationship. I absolutely hated the way M.C. met Lurhetta, and wasn't too thrilled with most of his later interactions with her. I couldn't believe she was willing to have anything to do with M.C. (spoiler - space down to read rest of sentence if you don't mind me giving away some of the story)

after he cut her with a knife because she was going to bash him in the head after he jumped on her. Ugh.

And there wasn't much a plot in M.C. Higgins, the Great. I guess I don't mind that so much in some books (like Criss Cross, for instance)....when I like the characters and are curious about their lives and their thoughts. But that didn't work for me here.

It's not you, M.C., it's me....we're just not compatible. I enjoyed hearing about your home, though.
Profile Image for Benji Martin.
863 reviews63 followers
December 9, 2015
I'm kind of conflicted about this book. I see some good in it, but I really didn't enjoy reading it, especially the first 50 pages or so. As an adult novel, it might have been decent, but I think most kids would have some trouble following the Faulkner-like steam of consciousness writing. The only thing that really makes this book a kid's book is the fact that M.C., our protagonist is a teenager.

M.C.'s guide to getting the girl: First stalk her a little while she's walking by herself through the woods, then jump out and scare the bejezus out of her. Next, climb up on your pole and burn something. Wave it around a lot and make construction-worker-type cat calls at her. Then jump down, and stalk her through the woods again, this time at night. Jump out and scare her again. This time, take your knife out and stab her, just a little. The next morning, approach her tent, hoping that she's forgotten all about your nighttime assault with a deadly weapon. Ask her if she wants to go for a swim. Invite her over for lunch. In the end, when she leaves, don't worry about it too much. You can always have conversations with her in your head.

Jone's guide to being a good dad: Slap, punch and kick your kid every time you see him. This will make him tough. It's all in good fun, right? Even when you hurt him. Can't afford a good birthday/Christmas present? Give him a pole. Poles make great gifts. Pass down your superstitious, ginger- fearing ways to your children. I mean gingers are just WEIRD, right? IGNORE the giant mountain avalanche heap that everyone says will fall on your house and family one day. For real. Don't do anything about it. It will take care of itself. When your son finally mans up and decides to build the wall to stop the heap, something you should have done years ago, don't offer to help. Just go get him a shovel. That's enough.

Profile Image for Adriel.
542 reviews6 followers
February 23, 2014
This is the kind of book that teachers assign kids that make them hate to read award winning books. It is clear that no kids sit on the award committees. I tried to like it, really, but I couldn't make it though for chapters. It was clear from the beginning nothing was going to happen like M.C. thought it would. I found the setting so strange, I needed a nap and some photographs to feel like I could understand the place they lived.
Profile Image for Hanna.
Author 2 books67 followers
July 17, 2020
To sum this book up in one word, I would say, "Confusing." For most of the book, I had no idea what was going on. I didn't really care, either, because I was bored, and the 40' pole was so unrealistic, I didn't even believe it was a real thing. I would not recommend M.C. Higgins, the Great to anyone.
Profile Image for Wendy.
951 reviews138 followers
July 20, 2014
(I always thought this would be a funny book--doesn't the title sound like the title of a funny book?--but it's not, at all.)

This was an interesting book and the writing was lovely, but I thought it was trying to do too many different things--I'd like it better with more focus.
Profile Image for Lars Guthrie.
546 reviews170 followers
November 14, 2009
I knew Virginia Hamilton as a collector of folk tales (the fabulous 'The People Could Fly' and 'The Dark Way'). Aware that she had won the Newbery for 'M.C.,' I have meant to read it for some time, but was put off by the covers of the editions I have seen (especially the current paperback shown here). Which just goes to show you how powerful a bad cover can be, and how misleading. Because this is an amazing novel. It's not really magical realism because it is absolutely real, but everything in it feels mystical. The characters are drawn in visceral detail (some down to their six-fingered hands and feet) but they remain mysterious. It's the coming-of-age story of Mayo Cornelius Higgins, who suffers under the weight of a slag heap which looms over his Ohio backcountry home, teetering on a mountainside that looks out on beautiful wilderness one way and a strip-mined hell on the other, and the pressures of his domineering father and vibrantly alive mother. It's a very particular and peculiar story about an unusually isolated African-American family that is wholly universal. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for regina.
20 reviews
February 27, 2015
I read this book twice because it's just so beautiful. It is intended for young adults, but it may be too sophisticated for many readers (young or old).

The main character lives on the side of a mountain that his grandmother claimed when she fled slavery. The mountain is being stripped for minerals and is threatening to collapse. But his family refuse to leave-- this home is their heritage. What else will they have?

Every scene is rich with metaphor. No character is saintly (which is often the case with "topical" work). All of the friendships/relationships are complex, laden with a sense of mutual wariness.

An interesting story; a poetic style of writing.
173 reviews16 followers
May 6, 2011
I had never heard of this novel before requesting a copy with NetGalley. The synopsis intrigued me. This is the story of a boy, aged 13, who dreams of leaving his home on the mountain, who hopes his mother's incredible voice is the answer that will take him and his family far away. He has fears. Fears of the mountain sliding down, burying all in its path, including his home. It is a coming of age story too, as M.C. Higgins struggles with the inner turmoil that sits in the young, a turmoil that pulls between respect and love for his father and his desire to be his own person. Both his parents work hard to care for their family and M.C. is often left to tend the children. He is pulled by duty and personal desire. High above them all, he loves to sit upon his pole, watching his piece of the world and dreaming of what lies beyond.

There is a good lesson of acceptance in M.C.Higgins, particularly within the last few chapters. To look beyond the colour of one's skin and hair, beyond physical differences and to see the individual for who he/she is, is the message the author portrays. To form one's own opinion, rather than letting others' opinions sway your own, is what every one of us must learn to do. Some of us just learn this lesson sooner than others.

Knowing this book won a Newberry Award, I felt sure I would enjoy reading this children's book. It is considered suitable for grades 3-7 but I wonder if it would hold their attention. I struggled to stay on task with this book. I found the story tended to wander, the plot felt somewhat weak, and I grew weary of it. I did complete it and had to wonder, did I expect too much? Perhaps today's readers expect more action, more mystery, more depth in character. This one just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Emily.
645 reviews30 followers
August 27, 2009
This is a story of a boy (M.C. HIggins) growing up on a mountain in basic isolation from anyone but his family. His mother's a great singer and "the dude" comes to maybe record her voice and take them off the mountain. Also, an *annoying* girl comes and M.C. thinks he might have a crush on her/she's a way off the mountain/whatever. But she leaves and honestly I didn't see the point to her even being in the story at all. I could not stand most of it and just didn't get the rest of it.

Also-if he referenced the "dude" one more time I was pretty sure I was going to do something drastic. I hate stuff like that-use a different word!!!!!

Also, is M.C. clairvoyant, special, or just schizophrenic? I didn't think the book did a very good job of working with the bordering on supernatural elements of the story.

It's over 200 pages and yet just takes place over 2 days so there is a lot of description and a LOT of "in your head" kind of dialogue. It was just too much for me. It's supposed to be a great book-only Newbery ever to also win the National Book Award and the Boston Horn/Globe award. Oh well.
2 reviews
August 18, 2020
Wow- I don’t know if I’ve ever hated a book this much. A friend remarked that this is the kind of book that would turn a child off reading for life, and I could not agree more. Even if you are able to put aside the misogynistic rape-culture “undertones,” so much of this book is impossible to comprehend. I really felt like I had forgotten how to read. The 40 foot pole. The spiderweb. The pages and pages and pages of descriptions that somehow made it harder for me to imagine what Hamilton was trying to help me visualize. Oy. Veh.
Profile Image for Ann.
Author 7 books207 followers
January 29, 2013
I've decided to read as many as I can of Virginia Hamilton's books for Black History Month 2013. Last year, I read all of Mildred Taylor's Logan family saga in chronological order rather than by publication date. That was an awesome experience! In truth, the national celebration 'for remembrance of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora' just gives me a chance to read and revisit these remarkable works for young readers.

So I started with M.C., Hamilton's Newbery Medal winner. It is an excellent and most unusual book. Unusual in that the setting and structure is not what most readers would expect. I was reminded of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. thesis in The Signifying Monkey. (I hope I am not misunderstanding or misusing this.) Gates traces the folkloric origins of the African-American cultural practice of “signifying” and uses the concept of signifying to analyze the interplay between texts of prominent African American writers. To signify, Gates writes is “to imply, goad, beg, boast by indirect verbal or gestural means." That certainly sounds like M.C. Higgins, The Great.

Is Mayo Cornelius Higgins a likable character? His goading and begging can be annoying at times. His initial treatment of the girl he falls in love with is negligible, to say the least. He hunts her down at night and cuts her back with a knife. But this young man who sits on top of a flag poll he can easily manipulate, and who worries that his father Jones does not take seriously the threat of slag-heap from strip mining eventually destroying their home and way of life on Sarah's Mountain, becomes part of the reader's imagination. Climbing over man-made huge spider webs and meeting "witchy people" with six digits on their hands and feet seems less like 'magical realism' and more like a way of living and seeing that most of us have not experienced before.

Hamilton uses vernacular--"there's where the dude come from." But it's more the shape of the story, like Ben's hoop snake which he snaps into a stick, that makes this book such a radical departure from all the white American writers who were writing children's books when this book was published in 1975.

It's a stunning achievement.
Profile Image for Phil J.
695 reviews53 followers
September 12, 2016
Girl stabbing!

I admit that I did some stupid things to get girls' attention when I was MC's age, but I never tried stabbing them. It works out OK for him, so maybe I should have tried.

Seriously, this is an obvious case of boys-will-be-boys going a little too far. Hamilton does a great job of creating characters and an atmospheric, thematic environment. The problem of the book is that many readers are not especially interested in the characters, their environment, or their internal struggles. Most readers will not finish this book, and very few readers under the age of 16 will even finish the first chapter. All in all, I'm guessing this book felt more relevant in the '70s than it does today.

I'm still curious in Hamilton as a writer, and would like to try one of her other efforts. She is said to have range, and maybe this is just a part of her range that didn't do much for me.
Profile Image for Natalie.
2,784 reviews132 followers
December 30, 2019
Coming up noiselessly behind her the way he knew how to stalk, he had grabbed her arms and tried to pin them. He had whispered that he thought she was just so nice.

M.C. stalked expertly, tense with a hunter's joy of discovery.

It wouldn't have taken much for him to climb down his pole and hunt for the girl

Hope that girl gets lost...Then I'll have to find her and lead her by the hand.

To catch her moving along without being heard or seen would take a lot of time.

Would have to move fast and quiet once I got near her. Like stalking on a hunt.

He pictured the act of slitting the back fur; with both hands, tearing it down and pulling the skin over hind legs.

Then take the knife, M.C. though. Bleed it at the throat and a deep twist.

He had lured her, like a deer caught by a delicious scent.

Always when he hunted sure, his senses seemed newborn.

Swiftly, he grabbed her above the left elbow, pinning her arm to her side. She fell hard on his chest. His fingers had her arm in a vise...

Both his arms were around her tightly.

Instead he thrust delicately through her shirt and made a clean check mark into her skin.

She stiffened, uttering a sickening whine of fear...

Tomorrow I'll hunt her.

M.C. felt a sudden, reckless excitement. He gave her a low and perfect whistle through his teeth.

The girl filled his head...

I know what you're thinking. "But Natalie, I thought M.C. Higgins was a kids' book so why are you putting all these sick serial killer/rapist thoughts on the review?"

Well my friend, I hate to disappoint you, but ALL of these thoughts are from M.C. Higgins the Great. Yep. Two of them are actually about a time M.C. was discussing animals, the rest are about a girl. I dare you to find the lone two.

This book was appalling to me. Number one reason why, for all those lines above. The feminist in me came roaring out cringing and scratching at the same time. How a book that has such lines could win a CHILDREN'S book award is beyond me. At this point I've read about half of all the Newberry winners and honors. (About 150 books) and there are some that definitely have subtle, of the era, sexism and racism, but thus far I haven't come across any others that actually talk about HUNTING a girl down. I am definitely not looking forward to reading any other Newberry books by this author if she thinks this is a great way to write.

Let's talk about some other reasons why I found this book garbage.

The pole. The GD pole. I've never read anything so absurd. M.C. likes to climb atop a forty-foot pole that he's a placed a bicycle seat with pedals on. It "gently arcs" out when he's sitting on it. Every time that pole was mentioned I wanted to scream "IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!!!"

Oh, and it gets even better. All of M.C.'s ancestors are buried on the hill (his father's side) and when his mother moved in, she insisted on the tombstones being moved because it looked so creepy. So then his dad starts placing junk over all the old graves, and the pole is the crowning feature of this monument of junk.

Then there are the "witchy" neighbors. They all have six toes and fingers and M.C.'s family hates them because they use their witchy magic to heal people and grow stuff on the land. (The DEMONS!!!) When they show up, M.C.'s dad breaks out into a panicky sweat and screams at them not to touch anything. One touches M.C.'s hand when he takes something out of it and therefore M.C.'s hand is deadly and they all fear it touching them.

Meanwhile, when we actually go to the "witchy" neighbors house, they're all super nice, even if they do talk to snakes and live on/by/under/above some weird viney spiderweb thing. Picturing anything described in this book makes you feel like you're losing your mind because it's all totally bizarre. From the description it sounded like the witchy neighbors live atop some giant rock pillars that are all connected by the spider-web thing and have plants growing all around them that are crawling with snakes. Like I said, none of it makes any sense.

M.C.'s family is actually kind of horrid to anybody that shows up. They're the most unwelcoming people I've ever seen. Jones, the Dad, is M.C.'s nemesis, or so the book makes it seem, but M.C. also loves him to pieces, so who the hell knows. he also doesn't care that a giant pile of mining sludge is about to bury his house. It's cool if his 13-year old boy deals with that little issue.

By far one of the worst books I've ever read. I kept going because it was like a trainwreck I couldn't turn away from. Very much DO NOT recommend to ANYONE.
Profile Image for Deven Black.
22 reviews18 followers
August 6, 2011
This Newbery Award-winning book is not for everyone. Action, intense drama and humor all are absent from this slow-moving tale in which reality, daydreams, internal-dialogs and seemingly telepathic communication add up to a thought-provoking novel that probes the fear-powered mythologies people create. By examining how action is paralyzed and potentially rewarding relationships are poisoned, Hamilton helps readers understand how their own internalized narratives guide, and possibly misguide, their own lives.

Thirteen-year-old M.C. Higgins’ family has lived on Sarah’s Mountain for generations, starting with his great grandmother who escaped slavery carrying her infant and made her way to this mountain, now named for her, on the Ohio edge of Appalachia where other escaped slaves also set up homesteads. For generations the Higgins family has feared and avoided the large, polydactyl Killburn family, thinking them “witchy.” The Killburns are shunned throughout the community except that M.C. and Ben Killburn have been friends all their lives, so close that they sense each other’s presence and communicate wordlessly as they individually move through the overgrown woods of the area. Yet, despite this bond, “between them was an unspoken agreement. Ben was never to touch M.C, with his hands and risk losing his only friend.”

M.C.’s intense internal struggle between his desire to leave the mountain to get away from a strip-mining slag heap that he thinks will fall on his family’s home and his rootedness, between his fear of the Killburns and his friendship with Ben, and between his fear and love for his hard-scrabble father tear at him as he sits on his 40-foot-tall pole that provides the outward-looking view that serves as a metaphor for the world “out there” that both entices and scares adolescents as their process of developing self-sufficiency and independence accelerates.

Even though all the characters in the book but two are either Higgins or Killburns, this story is far richer than a mere history of the conflict between the families and it is the other two characters, both wanderers, who serve as the catalysts to M.C.’s realization that safety for his family will not come from leaving the mountain and that choice, change and action are within his power.

Profile Image for Katie.
714 reviews34 followers
August 8, 2015
So I should start by saying I listed to this as an audiobook, and I have a terrible attention span when it comes to audiobooks. I know I zoned out for parts of it, but I was getting really tired of skipping back to catch what I missed.

The book takes place over the course of a few days in the life of M.C. Higgins, a boy living in the hills near the Ohio river. Over the course of these few days quite a bit happens. At first I thought the book was going to be about strip mining and the loss of the beauty of the natural world, because that is what was focused on in the beginning. But then MC meets a traveling man who has come to record his mother's excellent singing voice, so I thought the book was going to be about this. But then MC meets this stranger girl wandering through the woods, so for a while the book is about their strange relationship. And also there is this pole that MC always sits on. Just a tall, stationary pole with a bike seat on top that his father gave him as a present for swimming the Ohio...

There were a few things I liked about this book. I liked the setting and the sense of place the book creates. I had moments where I liked the complicated nature of MC's character. Mostly, however, I was bored, and mostly I really didn't like MC at all. I had a really hard time getting over the fact that when he met this girl in the woods, (who later becomes a friend of sorts) he pins her down, cuts her back with a knife, and kisses her. I found it incredibly disturbing.

Another disappointing Newbery winner.
Profile Image for Carol Bakker.
1,145 reviews76 followers
September 22, 2014
Hamilton takes us to a rough and fantastical household in Appalachia. M.C. Higgins, the Great, thirteen, is the oldest child who watches over his siblings from the top of a 40-foot pole, hunts with his hands, and rebelliously befriends a six-fingered boy whose family is considered witchy.

I couldn't tell if he loved or hated his father whom his son calls Jones; they play-fight with a fierceness that made me uncomfortable. His mother tells her son, 'He's Jones. And don't you forget it.'

He has his first crush on a stranger, a girl who shows up in the woods. He hunts her like quarry, tackles, kisses, and *stabs* her lightly on the back, amazed that she gives him a shiner by throwing a flashlight at his head. Later he finds her tent by a remote lake and they establish a wary friendship.

M.C.'s mom, Banina, climbs up the mountain after long work days. When she gets to the ravine across from their house, she starts yodeling and the kids yodel back. M.C.'s hopes are invested in his mother's voice; perhaps she'll be discovered and they can leave their house endangered by strip-mining.

M.C.'s life is so alien—both in his circumstances and his responses—that I couldn't connect with him. The whole time I slogged through this (Newberry award!)book, I couldn't imagine any child reading this to completion, no less enjoying it.
Profile Image for Lilly.
66 reviews
January 6, 2016
I'm working my way through Newbery winners and as sometimes occurs I'm wondering what the hype is all about. The only thing I can think is that is was diverse and progressive for the time it was written. There were probably few books about African American families in Appalachia. It does introduce some important themes, such as Appalachian culture, strip mining and coming of age. However, I just wasn't satisfied with how any of these themes were handled. The only part that seemed to be truly dealt with was M.C. learning that he can't look to others to solve his problems and also a lesson about accepting the differences in others. However, I felt like the characters were hard to like, from cocky and bossy M.C. to whiny Loretta and Mr. Higgins' narrow minded attitude. Also the book was filled with cliches about superstitious mountain people and weird inbred families. I'm sure it was an insightful book in the 1970s but there are many better books that cover these topics and aspects of our culture without the cliches.
Profile Image for Ariel.
4 reviews7 followers
January 11, 2013
I must say, for a book that was the winner of a Newbery Medal, I was disappointed. My main problem with the book was how it was written. I can best describe the style as 'ADD': the story will go from describing M.C.'s daily routine to a flashback concerning his father to M.C.'s dreams of his mother becoming a professional singer so that they can move off the mountain - all within two pages!. I haven't read any other works by Ms. Hamilton, so I don't know if she regularly writes in this style. But I will say that it's very distracting to read.

I'll admit, the themes of the book aren't bad: maturing, the disappoinments and dreams of life, discovering pride in who you are and where you come from, etc. And I did enjoy Lurhetta Outlaw character (I wish there was a book about her) But it's the writing style that keeps me from enjoying the book. If you like it, that's fine. But it didn't work for me.
Profile Image for Carl Nelson.
817 reviews3 followers
June 25, 2014
1975 Newbery Medal recipient.

I liked some parts of this book, principally the evocative descriptions of life in the mountains along the Ohio River. MC was an interesting character, and his growth was nicely depicted. Unfortunately, there were many facets of this book that made it something of a chore to read. First, the events are bizarre and the symbolism is totally beyond my grasp. The forty foot pole with a bicycle seat and pedals at the to where MC would sit? The tunnel? The incident between MC and Lurhetta when they first met? The multi-fingered Killburns? No clue what the author wanted to represent with any of that. The tension in the novel seemed either contrived, like the relationship between MC and his father, or so remote and random as to be a minor detail, like the spoil heap. An unsatisfying read that left me mystified as to the author's intent.
Profile Image for Josiah.
3,211 reviews145 followers
October 25, 2021
There is a lot of good material in this thought-provoking novel by Virginia Hamilton. The plot is more detailed than most Newbery Medal winners, and each strand is carefully and completely developed.

The story raises many questions, some of which are answered only through the actions of the characters. Pay close attention, or you'll miss something big.

M.C. Higgins, the Great is an unusual story of life in the mountains that was the Holes of its day, at least in regard to the youth literature awards it won.
Profile Image for Caitlin.
948 reviews2 followers
December 10, 2013
I am not sure why, but I had a very difficult time appreciating this book. It just simply did not resonate with me. I had a difficult time following the story line. Hamilton's writing style made the story seem choppy and incomplete. Her descriptions were beautiful at times, but this was just not my book.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,789 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2022
A YA story written by an esteemed writer who lived about a half an hour from where I live now. A pleasant story about a young boy who has dreams of grandeur sitting a top a 40 foot pole. One summer two visitors intrude and give M.C. thoughts of life away from his mountain. A pleasant read.
Profile Image for Susan.
491 reviews4 followers
May 21, 2016
Welp, this enters that fairly slim group of Newbery winners that I just hated. The characters of M.C., his family members, his friend Ben, and the two newcomers that come to Sarah's Mountain all struck me as unlikable in one way or another, and I found many of their actions and motivations to be fairly incomprehensible and bizarre (remember the time M.C. kisses and then stabs a girl he likes?). I had always incorrectly assumed that this book was about race to at least some degree, but the characters' race was really completely inconsequential to the plot. And, in fact, rather than the prejudice you might be expected to see directed against the African American Higgins family during the time period when the book is set, we actually see the Higginses demonstrating considerable prejudice against another local family who they believe are "witchy." Perhaps the most incomprehensible aspect of this book for me was M.C.'s pole. I just cannot visualize this pole, with its bike pedals, and every time M.C. thought about it or climbed up it, I felt aggravated about it all over again. Another thing that really didn't help my experience of this book was the audiobook's narrator, whose voice and presentation I just did not like. Anyway, not my cup of tea, and not one I suspect I will ever be recommending.
170 reviews2 followers
July 9, 2014
1975 Newbery winner -author/illustrator Virginia Hamilton - Mayo Cornelius (M.C.) lives on Sarah's Mountain named for his great grandmother. He feels the need to leave the mountain because of the rubble that threatens his family's home from the strip mining. He is friends with Ben a family that seems witchy by M.C. family's standards. A man named Lewis comes to the mountain to tape record his mother's singing and M.C. thinks a recording contract will get them off the mountain. The man in the end is only doing it to save the sounds of the mountain people as his father did. A girl named Lurhetta Outlaw arrives on the mountain, she is out to see the world. M.C. shares the mountain with her, but she leaves withut saying goodbye. She leaves only her knife for him stuck in the ground where she had been tenting. In the end he begins to build a wall from the trash found on the family's property to build a wall to keep the slide out if it gives way on Sarah's mountain. His friend Ben and his siblings are helping him. M.C. father contributes a broken shovel and the tombstone of Great-grandmother Sarah for the wall. M.C., the Great was the name given by Lurhetta to Mayo. There was no illustrations.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,772 reviews281 followers
March 12, 2016
‘”I don’t know.” M.C. signed. “…But I’m getting tired of Daddy. Tired as I can be.”

“Come on,” Banina said. “We’ll miss the morning sun.” And later: “It’s not your daddy you tired of, M.C. It’s here. It’s this place. The same thing day after day is enemy to a growing boy.”

And all the ghosts, M.C. thought. All of the old ones.’

M.C. lives on the side of a mountain, just like his father before him and his grandmother before him. But all that must come to an end. Strip mining threatens to send a pile of rubble down on his home. M.C.’s father refuses to see it.

But M.C. is watching for ways to get away and one of the ways arrives in the form of a fellow recording songs. This fellow, this dude, as M.C. calls him, will get M.C.’s mother a singing contract and take the family away from the hills, M.C. thinks.

Another stranger visits, a girl traveling around the country, a city girl who shows M.C. other ways of thinking, of viewing his world, the bigger world. She could be a way out, M.C. thinks.

But again and again life disappoints, people disappoint. Out of the disappointments M.C. takes new knowledge and adds it to his old life, building a new life out of the old.
Profile Image for Kathi.
308 reviews1 follower
February 7, 2015
There were many bright spots in this book about a poor family growing up in the West Virginia hills.

I loved Banina—mother/singer/yodeler—and her relationship with her family, especially M.C., her 13-year-old son. I loved M.C.’s deep awareness and appreciation of the awesomeness of his family’s mountain, named for his grandmother Sarah who found it when she escaped from slavery. The descriptions of the quirky, “witch-y” Killburn family with their six fingers and their joyful children were images that will stay with me awhile. I also appreciated hearing Virginia Hamilton’s lyrical writing read by Roscoe Lee Browne on the audio CD. I could continue with positive comments for quite a few paragraphs.

There were, however, too many oddities that disconnected me from the plot and the realism of M.C. Higgins. While I truly hope that struggling families in West Virginia have as many bright spots in their lives as Hamilton gave M.C., she did not convince me of that possibility in this 1975 Newbery winner.
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