Coal River

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Published by: Kensington
Release Date: November 24, 2015
Pages: 304
ISBN13: 978-1617734472



In this vibrant new historical novel, the acclaimed author of The Plum Tree and What She Left Behind explores one young woman’s determination to put an end to child labor in a Pennsylvania mining town…

As a child, Emma Malloy left isolated Coal River, Pennsylvania, vowing never to return. Now, orphaned and penniless at nineteen, she accepts a train ticket from her aunt and uncle and travels back to the rough-hewn community. Treated like a servant by her relatives, Emma works for free in the company store. There, miners and their impoverished families must pay inflated prices for food, clothing, and tools, while those who owe money are turned away to starve.

Most heartrending of all are the breaker boys Emma sees around the village—young children who toil all day sorting coal amid treacherous machinery. Their soot-stained faces remind Emma of the little brother she lost long ago, and she begins leaving stolen food on families’ doorsteps, and marking the miners’ bills as paid.

Though Emma’s actions draw ire from the mine owner and police captain, they lead to an alliance with a charismatic miner who offers to help her expose the truth. And as the lines blur between what is legal and what is just, Emma must risk everything to follow her conscience.

An emotional, compelling novel that rings with authenticity—Coal River is a deft and honest portrait of resilience in the face of hardship, and of the simple acts of courage that can change everything.


“Intense and heartbreaking at times, but full of hope. The author’s impeccable research into this era makes for a spot-on portrayal of a dark time in American history. Coal River [is] one of the most “unputdownable” books of 2015.”
– The Historical Novels Review, Editor’s Choice

“Heartrending and strongly drawn historical details.”
– Booklist

“Wiseman offers heartbreaking and historically accurate depictions… The richly developed coal town acts as a separate, complex character; readers will want to look away even as they're drawn into a powerful quest for purpose and redemption…[a] powerful story”
– Publishers Weekly

“In clean, clear prose, Wiseman paints an insightful portrait of a coal town and the miners’ struggle for their rights, along with the fight against child labor. This non-stop read is a compelling story of one woman’s determination to see justice win over greed and corruption. The careful research shows in every page of this forthright picture of a world brought from darkness into the light.”
- RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“Paints a picture of the struggles mining families faced in the early 1900s. Emma is a strong, likable character that is willing to fight for what she believes is right…the plot of Coal River sweeps the reader along as Emma faces each obstacle. This book will attract readers of historical fiction and those looking for strong female character.”

“Things get really, really fast and furious. This book opened my eyes to the coal mines. I loved it. Would be a great book club selection.”
– Jackie Blem, Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver, CO)

The Historical Novels Review, Editor’s Choice