Stay and Fight was my surprise 5-star listen of 2019. I hadn't heard a word about this book--it was a spur-of-the-moment library checkout--and once I started listening, I couldn't stop. Set in Appalachia, this is the story of three women who come together to survive and raise a child. Helen arrives with her boyfriend, full of dreams of living off the land. It goes south quickly. He leaves and she, having put all her resources toward the land they purchased, sticks it out.
Her neighbors, a couple named Karen and Lily, are expecting a child--a boy, which means they must move off of the Women's Land Trust where they've been scraping by. Helen invites them to live on and share ownership of her land. Bent on being independent, together, the three women and the little boy, Perley, build a house, devise systems for surviving, and negotiate their relationships with one another. But they can't keep the outside world away forever, and soon it begins encroaching on their lives in ways they didn't expect. This book combines so many themes: the families we create, living off the land, life in Appalachia and poverty, and rugged femininity, all told in multiple riveting voices.
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Helen arrives in Appalachian Ohio full of love and her boyfriend’s ideas for living off the land. Too soon, with winter coming, he calls it quits. Helped by Rudy—her government-questioning, wisdom-spouting, seasonal-affective-disordered boss—and a neighbor couple, Helen makes it to spring. Those neighbors, Karen and Lily, are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a boy, which means their time at the Women’s Land Trust must end.
So Helen invites the new family to throw in with her—they’ll split the work and the food, build a house, and make a life that sustains them, if barely, for years. Then young Perley decides he wants to go to school. And Rudy sets up a fruit-tree nursery on the pipeline easement edging their land. The outside world is brought clamoring into their makeshift family.
Set in a region known for its independent spirit, Stay and Fight shakes up what it means to be a family, to live well, to make peace with nature and make deals with the system. It is a protest novel that challenges our notions of effective action. It is a family novel that refuses to limit the term. And it is a marvel of storytelling that both breaks with tradition and celebrates it. Best of all, it is full of flawed, cantankerous, flesh-and-blood characters who remind us that conflict isn’t the end of love, but the real beginning.
Absorbingly spun, perfectly voiced, and disruptively political, Madeline ffitch’s Stay and Fight forces us to reimagine an Appalachia—and an America—we think we know. And it takes us, laughing and fighting, into a new understanding of what it means to love and to be free.