Audiobook Review: THE HOLLOW GROUND by Natalie S. Harnett

Format: Audio; 10 hrs, 32 mins
Narrator: Luci Christian
Publisher: Audible Studios
Released: May 13, 2014
Source: Review copy from
Rating: ★★★★½

“We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet.”

The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced 11-year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the black lung-stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the “curse” laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades-old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.

Inspired by real-life events in Centralia and Carbondale, where devastating coal mine fires irrevocably changed the lives of residents, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Lovers of literary fiction will find in Harnett’s young, determined protagonist a character as heartbreakingly captivating as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

THE HOLLOW GROUND is a strong character-driven historical novel that takes readers back to the Pennsylvania coal mine fires in the early 1960s. It’s also very much a coming-of-age story for the young protagonist, Brigid Howley. What can I say about Brigid, except that she was a survivor! She told it like it was, her life as the daughter of a loving yet irresponsible alcoholic father, and a distant mother with major abandonment issues. They were refugees of a sort, forced to move from place to place, trying to outrun the coal fires underground.

I love reading books like this that transport me to a time and place I’m not familiar with, and let me see life vividly through the characters’ eyes. I’d known about the long-burning coal fires, but it didn’t occur to me that these dangerous mines were underneath so many homes, putting families just like Brigid’s in peril from poison gasses, explosions, and cave-ins.

The audiobook was narrated by Luci Christian, and I enjoyed her performance very much. Not only did she do a great job reading as the precocious 12-year old Brigid, her voices for the secondary characters were spot on, especially cantankerous old Gram.

THE HOLLOW GROUND is an impressive debut novel filled with memorable characters and eye-opening historical details of the Pennsylvania coal fires. It’s a story with much darkness, but leaves readers with a light at the end of the tunnel.

Disclosure: A copy of this audiobook was provided by in exchange for an honest review.