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On Agate Hill by Lee Smith
On Agate Hill begins in 1872 with Molly Petree, a 13-year old girl who lost the rest of her family in the Civil War, moving into her uncle's decaying estate called Agate Hill. A self-proclaimed spitfire, Molly watches a scheming widow seduce her uncle so she can inherit the estate. Facing a bleak future, her father's enigmatic friend, Simon Black, buys her way into a boarding school for young women. Molly manages to find a way to receive an education despite her background and the evil headmistress. Molly's education abruptly ends when the headmistress' husband makes a pass at her. With Simon's help, she becomes a teacher in western North Carolina, marries an unfaithful husband and has a string on stillborn babies. Her life comes full circle when she moves back to Agate Hill with Simon as he's dying, finally learning of Simon's reasons for intervening in her life. Lee Smith's novel has received mostly positive reviews with the Boston Globe saying, "On Agate Hill, as lyrical and haunting as an Appalachian ballad, casts a powerful charm."