Fire in the Hole

Fire in the Hole

"...Da tore the book from Mick's hands. Using the tail of his shirt, he yanked open the stove door and pitched the book in. It settled into the flames with a floosh."

As librarians and educators, did that get your attention? Here is an uncomplicated yet thoughtful and fast paced story set at Wardner, Idaho in 1899 around its mining area. History calls it the "Coeur d'Alene Confrontation Of 1899." Fourteen-year-old Mick Shea and his miner father do NOT understand each other--resulting in hostility, conflict and tension. The boy reads, helps out the local newspaper editor and does not want to work in a hole in the ground. Reminiscent of John Boy Walton, he even dreams of attending Gonzaga College in nearby Spokane and being a reporter.

However, a labor versus management conflict intervenes. The local miners union including Mick's dad blow up the Bunker Hill mill. Typical of the times, government sides with the employers/capitalists and sends in the army. Under martial law, everyone including Mick and his father are indiscriminately rounded up and interned or corralled in a hastily constructed primitive stockade.

After escaping without his dad, guess what Mick must do to take care of his younger siblings and pay the rent on their mining company's shack? He has no choice but to ignore the union strike and go down into the mine--the reader recalls something his mother said in trying to explain his dad's behavior, " ' Your father seems like a hard man. But I saw how much it pained him to give up his dreams. Maybe he thinks that if you don't have dreams, you won't get hurt.' "

Throughout the family trauma and labor ordeal, both Mick and his father gain a better understanding of and respect for each other. Also, Mick is more determined than ever in pursuing his dream. His dad now accepts it and, perhaps, even believes his son might actually realize it.

Labor fiction doesn't get much play although English, history, and economic classes can easily utilize it for assignments and research. Probably the best "labor" novel but least known John Steinbeck novel is In Dubious Battle written in 1936. Libraries might also display Union Dues by John Sayles and Wallace Stegner's biographical novel, Joe Hill (1950). Coincidentally, another historical novel titled Fire In The Hole is worth a look. Written by Sybil Downing, this historical novel is set in the Colorado coalfields and deals with the infamous Ludlow Masscre of 1914. For a thorough history and analysis of the decade plus Idaho labor conflict, the definitive book is Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas published in 1997.

With workers rights and collective bargaining presently in the news and the reality that most of us are employees, the topic can never be irrelevant. All of us and especially young adults continually need to be reminded of why workers have any rights and what those brave workers sacrificed and suffered so we could have our coffee breaks and do whatever we want on Saturdays! 167 pages.

Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian

Awards: 2005 Spur Award, New York Public Library Best Books For The Teenage 2006, Notable Social

Social Studies Trade Books For Young People 2005, Bank Street College Best Children's Book


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