Books Set in the South, Children's, Dowell-Frances O'Roark, Family dynamics, Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult

#517 Dovey Coe by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Dovey Coe by Frances O'Roark DowellDovey Coe by Frances O’Roark Dowell

The mountains of North Carolina are a beautiful place, but in the hollows and shadows of the mountains there are little settlements housing tight-knit communities. In Dovey’s community, things work a bit differently than usual.

Dovey is twelve years old. She has an older sister, Caroline, and a deaf brother named Amos. Amos and Dovey are very close. They can speak without words and Amos can even read. He doesn’t go to school though because the school isn’t really equipped to handle Amos.

Parnell is the son of the local rich man. This rich man owns most everything in town. Parnell wants Caroline to be his wife. Caroline is very pretty, but she’s determined to go over to Boone and go to the teacher’s college. She thinks it will be exciting (on a side note: I like Boone, but there’s not a whole lot to do there, Caroline must really be from a backwoods place). Parnell tries to catch Caroline all summer. At her going away party he asks her to marry him right there, but Caroline outright refuses. She says she wouldn’t marry him if he were the last man on Earth.

This is all week and good for Dovey, because she didn’t like Parnell anyway. Parnell soon takes one of Amos’ dogs hostage and Dovey is asked to go and get it. Parnell makes to kill the dog while Dovey lunges with her knife. The next thing she knows she’s alive, but Parnell is dead. Dovey knows that she did not kill Parnell, but no one else knows that. A trial of a twelve-year old girl ensues. If Dovey didnt’ kill Parnell, who did?

What I liked

What an interesting “whodunit.” If the twelve-year old girl didn’t do it, who did? The conclusion is a bit more interesting than you might expect.

I liked that this story was set in the North Carolina mountains. It’s a beautiful area. I have been to both Boone and Asheville mentioned in this book. Boone is a pretty town, but without a whole lot there. Without Appalachian State University, there wouldn’t really be anything there. It is a great artsy little town though. Asheville is a neat city. It sits by the river. There are mountains everywhere. On every single corner there is someone playing the guitar or the banjo. It’s a very neat place. If you’ve never been, go. You’ll like it.

There is a southern mentality in this book. Families stick together, but are stubborn to the utmost degree. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be stubborn if you’re from the South. It’s the only way you get things done.

What I didn’t like

This whole picture that Frances paints of a rural North Carolina mountain town may seem quaint and interesting, but she also paints the darker side of small town living. Small towns while seeming ideal for raising families, hold a lot of secrets. There are a lot of things that can happen in small towns that wouldn’t really fly in the big cities, at least not without a lot of money being passed around. Law enforcement is more likely to look the other way when you live in a small town. Secrets are hiding around every corner and everyone keeps them because everyone knows each other. Families sticking together seems like a great thing, but it also means that families and close friends will downright lie about something if they think it will help one of their members.

Dovey might have gotten convicted of murder for this very mentality, but this very mentality probably also kept her out of jail. Parnell probably got away with a whole lot. If he had been alive, Dovey wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on in defense. Parnell would never have been charged by killing her dog or assaulting her. He had too much money. He knew too many people. I thoroughly believe that if Parnell had not been killed Dovey would have been raped and perhaps beaten by Parnell. He wasn’t inviting her to the storage room just to kill her dog.

That’s another thing, if you kill a person’s dog in the South, you’re probably not going to be charged with anything. That’s just the truth. I’ve had many dogs over the years and, yes, some of them were killed by other people. Why? Sometimes they didn’t even have a reason. There was actually someone in the area who essentially went around killing dogs for a while. Dogs went missing right and left. If Parnell had survived, Dovey could have gone around telling people that he killed her dog, but nobody would have cared. They would have told her to get over it.


I thought this story was a great twist on the traditional murder mystery.

Weigh In

How would this have played out differently if the story had taken place in a different part of the country?

Do you believe that this adventure will change Dovey’s desires for her adult life?


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