Cover Image: Miracle Country

Miracle Country

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I loved the way Atleework wrote about California. She reminded me of John Steinbeck with the landscapes she painted with her words.
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⁣At a time when wildfires are currently raging in California, it is surreal to read this book. ⠀
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Part-memoir, part environmental history, this book is about the author and how her family lived in remote California. Covering different topics like her mother’s death, theft of the Valley’s water for quenching Los Angeles’ thirst, history of California and how wildfires affect them and their homes, Atleework creates a good combination of personal and historical facts.⠀
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Quoting a lot of environmentalists, this book makes you question a good deal of every day things that happen so easily for you. Who knew that for water to flow so freely from your tap is the result of so much conflict, hardwork, and possibly destruction?⠀
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More like a love letter for California, this book is raw, unflinching and painfully honest. Read this if you like memoirs and want to read more about climate change and it’s effects.⠀
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First of all, I will just say that there were so many great quotes in this book. One of my favorites in which I read over and over is: “Maybe because I am high up on this ladder, I remember: When I was a kid, I understood that I could fly. Not in a way that compelled me to leap from heights, though the urge was strong enough. How fun it would be, Pop has often remarked, to soar like a hawk, to kick from a mountain into air and skip the treacherous down-climb. If you have climbed anything at all, you know it is easier to go up than to come down.”

What I enjoyed about this book is that it was a perfect mix of both the history of the family and of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. I really enjoyed the authors portrayal of living in a small desert town and the weather conditions in which the family had to live in. Her use of imagery made me feel that I was there myself. 

My one gripe is that the author used a non-linear timeline. In many parts of the book I was a bit confused on the sudden jump from one paragraph to next that led to either a flash back in time or a completely different topic. 

I also would have liked to have understand what her mother's rare autoimmune disease was. 

A big THANK YOU to Algonquin and the author for sending me a copy of this book!
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MIRACLE COUNTRY is Kendra Atleework's reflection of her life growing up in Swall Meadows in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, where rain is scarce and drought is common. Interwoven throughout her childhood anecdotes is a history of water in southern California, namely, how the creation of dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs which funneled water to the southern part of the state allowed Los Angeles to flourish and turned Owens Valley into a desert. Family is an important theme in this memoir; much of the book is about how Atleework's various family members fell in love with Owens Valley and how it became a home to them.

Unfortunately, I didn't love reading MIRACLE COUNTRY. I was definitely intrigued by this part of California (I spent a lot of time on Google Maps exploring Atleework's hometown!) as well as its environmental history - Atleework highlights how early settlers of the state colonized the Indigenous people of the land by controlling their water sources, and this control of resources still has a significant impact on the region today. However, I am someone who prefers a more straightforward and direct style of writing, and to me, Atleework's writing was poetic to the point of incoherence. I felt like I was following a stream of consciousness as the book bounced back and forth between history and various personal anecdotes, and I wasn't always able to see the link between stories, which made it hard for me to want to keep reading.

I found this memoir hard to follow, which consequently made it difficult for me to understand the message that the author was trying to convey. However, if you appreciate descriptive language and writing or enjoy stories about how people are shaped by their geographies, I would recommend MIRACLE COUNTRY.
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California has a vast literary legacy, with works by those such as Mary Austin, John Steinbeck, Kevin Starr, and Joan Didion to name just a few. A new name needs to be added to the list--Kendra Atleework ("The Atleework children are alone in the world with this name because our parents made it up. Who needs a hyphen? Robert Atlee met Jan Work and there you have it."--how cool is this?) Born and raised in the Eastern Sierras, Atleework's Miracle Country is not only a stunning look at the magic and draw of her birthplace, but a beautiful familial memoir. I loved both parts, and if I try to pick a favorite it is even more evident how intertwined they are. Add that kickass cover and you have a brilliant trifecta.

Atleework's writing about the denizens of her area is beautiful in its honesty and grit.

To understand the place we call the Eastern Sierra, you must be able to see what is no longer here. See what hides, change your definition of big and empty and small, of good and bad. Bend and search the desert floor for the near-invisible petals of a crowned muilla and then look up to mountains that seem to rise forever. This dusty margin of California draws and then replicates the kind of people who have never completely adjusted to a human scale. They don’t quite fit other places, be it the orbit of their ideas, good and bad, or the size of the sky they require in order to carry out their lives.

Her landscape writing, however, is dazzling. Great landscape writing, in my opinion, is a very difficult thing to achieve. It takes a special voice, intimacy, caring (love or hate or a complex mixture of both). Atleework hits that recipe out of the park. She grew up in Swall Meadows, in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Annual rainfall averages five inches. In drought years that can be closer to zero.

The wind is a major force in the Eastern Sierra, earning the moniker of "Sierra Wave," and Atleework's writing about it is sublime:

On the beaches of the Pacific, gusts arrive laden with salt spray, whooshing with enough force to make your eyes water, a persistence perfect for launching kites. By the time that breeze reaches Owens Valley, it has raced over the coastal range, up the western, windward flank of the Sierra Nevada, and it has turned powerful. Dust devils tear up the dry surface of what was once Owens Lake, tossing toxic particles miles into the sky, into the lungs of the people who live near the old shoreline. The wind blows from the west over the mountains, and the willows along the river lean east. It scatters pollen in a golden film over backyard ponds. It stretches curtains across bedrooms.

I have hiked on a day when the Sierra Wave pummeled the sky, have leaned into a gale so strong it negates the work of gravity and I can almost lie down on air, can fall forward without really falling.

I have found myself caught in a canyon when the Jeffrey pines above me thrashed their branches like furious giants and the Wave hurled stones and pine cones and I ran for my car.

The Atleeworks were raised to thrive in their harsh environment, filled with scorpions, black widow spiders, rattlesnakes, cat-stealing coyotes, and mountain lions. They were "forever at the mercy of wildfires, blizzards, and gale-force winds. Above all, they were raised on unconditional love and delight in the natural world." The care and love of Atleework's unique and charismatic parents shines through in her work.

Her mother was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when Atleework was six and died when she was 16. This loss wreaked havoc on Robert ("a man of wild plans and long shots") and his children, particularly adopted son Anthony ("pure cooked-down rage"). The family was damaged, Kendra taking off for school in Minnesota and Anthony tearing off with ill-conceived plans. Miracle Country recounts her pull home by her family as well as the landscape ("In Minnesota, the world is blanketed in snow silence. It’s safe to say: I miss familiar disaster. I miss water’s absence.")

In addition to landscape and family love and turmoil, Atleework swirls in some fascinating history of California, particularly with respect to water and the influence of William Mulholland, who became responsible for the infrastructure that pulled water away from the Sierras and allowed Los Angeles to become the city it is. The changes were not without war-waging. "'Whiskey’s for drinking. Water’s for fighting over.' This is a western adage I have heard many times. The contest over water passes between generations like a sodden torch. Bishop folks dam the shallow tributaries that pass through town, flooding their own yards and cutting off those below."

A memoir of love, loss, landscape and (to continue the alliteration) leaving, Miracle Country is a fascinating, heartfelt read that is astonishing in breadth without feeling bogged down. The advance praise will give you an even better push to pick up this gem:

“[A] shimmering memoir… More than a work of environmental change or history of place, this is a love letter of sorts to Atleework’s mother. Her presence is felt in every page, and it is in the pursuit of peace amid her loss that ultimately brings ­Atleework home. A bittersweet tribute to home and family in breathtaking prose that will appeal to lovers of memoirs and history, as well as anyone who enjoys beautifully crafted writing.”
—Library Journal

“A sensitive, thoughtful portrait of a part of California that few people see—or want to… A welcome update of classic works on California’s arid backcountry by Mary Austin, Marc Reisner, and Reyner Banham.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Kendra Atleework has written the most beautiful book about California I ever have read. The author locates the mystery and beauty of her life in the small town of Bishop, on the eastern slope of the Sierra, decades after Los Angeles has stolen the water. Her poet's prose, on every page, honors the dry land and breathes Nature to life.”
—Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography


“Miracle Country is a soaring homage to California and to the sparsely populated and drought-prone eastern sierra, where the author grew up. Blending family memoir and environmental history, Kendra Atleework conveys a fundamental truth: the places in which we live, live on – sometimes painfully – in us. This is a powerful, beautiful, and urgently important book.”
—Julie Schumacher, author of The Shakespeare Requirement


“This eloquent narrative is both a natural history of the author's home place, a seemingly arid region, and a loving portrait of an extraordinary family. Kendra Atleework has an uncanny wisdom and a deep sense of people and their origins, and she writes like an angel.”
—Charles Baxter, author of There’s Something I Want You to Do


“Can a book be both radiant with light and shadowy as midnight? Miracle Country can. I felt the thrill I once knew reading Annie Dillard for the first time. Kendra Atleework can really write. She flies with burning wings."
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels


“Miracle Country is truly some kind of miracle, combining a moving family story with deft, deeply researched history. Written from the crucible of California's water wars, combined with a family story of love and loss in the high desert Eastern Sierra Nevada, Kendra Atleework's book joins the great American accounts of the West, a step beyond Joan Didion, moving from a beloved geography into a jeopardized future. Kendra Atleework is that rare writer--capable of heart-stopping memoir while performing a work of keen observation and serious history. A work of stunning acuity and candor, essential reading, already a classic narrative.”

—Patricia Hampl, author of The Art of the Wasted Day
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Kendra Atleework describes her family’s struggles as they live in a remote part of the California desert. They fight against elements (extreme drought & fires) and navigate her mother’s early death at the age of fifty-two. Her siblings struggle in their own ways and Kendra flees the Eastern Sierra, in search of peace while at college in Los Angeles. After a few moves across states, she realizes the only place she will ever feel at home is in Swallow. She returns home and begins anew as she comes to terms with her identity as she is shaped by the landscapes around her.

I thought this memoir did an excellent job of capturing the essence of each of Kendra’s family members. I really enjoyed her retelling of stories that depicted her mother and father’s journeys as well as her two siblings. I did find it a bit difficult at times to follow as it’s non-linear. The personal story is often interjected with quite a bit of history about the area and sometimes it hops back and forth in time without much notice. I am discovering that I really prefer memoirs that are written in chronological order and this is the main reason for the rating I gave this book. The theme of survival and resilience is woven in seamlessly as Atleework explains the challenges her parents faced by choosing to settle down in the Eastern Sierra. Thank you to @netgalley and @algonquinbooks for the ARC.
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Miracle Country is the memoir of Kendra Atleework, who grew up with her family in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada at the mercy of all nature could throw at them. After losing her mother at 16, her family fell apart and Kendra escaped to LA and then Minneapolis, but eventually returned home to come to terms with her past.

This memoir is a unique combination of family story and environmental history.  What originally drew me to the book was the promise of beautifully descriptive accounts of the natural landscape. Having come off of reading Where the Crawdad’s Sing recently, I was intrigued, and this book definitely delivered on that promise. Atleework gives the reader the most breathtaking descriptions of both the beauty and ferocity of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. I also appreciated the poetic way she connected her personal history with the environmental issues. 

That being said, I found myself falling in and out of love with this story as I read and never had that “I need to keep reading this” feeling you get with a really great book. The personal and environmental histories were both interesting in and of themselves, but the narrative read almost more as a stream of consciousness with the historical sections embedded so abruptly in the middle of the personal narratives that I found it impossible to get into a rhythm of reading it and at times had to check to make sure the pages of my ARC weren’t somehow disordered. 

This book would be great for someone who would like to read about the negative impact people have on the environment told through the lens of personal ties to the land.

Thank you to Algonquin Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Also…this cover is gorgeous!!
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This book is not only a memoir of Atleework's time growing up in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, but a reflection on the region's history. She weaves the historical elements into her family's story with beautiful prose. I learned so much about this portion of our country that is so out of my orbit and was interested to see how Atleework pulled all the story stands together to weave this narrative. Readers who love contemplative memoir will devour this book.
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Miracle Creek is a beautiful and austere novel. Atleework brings to life the terrain our protagonist travels and expertly weaves in tales of life.

** I received an electronic ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review of this book.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for an eArc of this memoir in exchange for an honest review.

This is a lovely and moving memoir that in addition to being about family and home, also delves in to the impacts of climate change
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The mention of the California desert conjures up an image of barren, dry, and arid land. What is it like to grow up on such a land? What is it that drives people to make it their home? Miracle Country is a debut memoir by author Kendra Atleework about a part of California that few people talk about.

Through a non-linear narrative, it follows the author’s journey as she and her family struggle with the loss of her mother. Escaping to Los Angeles and then Minneapolis (that is more bountiful) before making peace with the memories and returning back home.

The book is as much a memoir as it is about the history of California. The transformation of the desert into a city. The author shares how it was growing up in such harsh terrain. She also discusses wildfires, droughts, water wars, how nature can be unforgiving, the Paiute people and the injustice they suffered. The amount of research is evident.

The writing style is poetic and a good attempt by a debut author. She manages to combine the two narratives (family history and the history of California) effortlessly. Also, nature is more of a character in the book that I found interesting.

What did not work for me was the pacing of the book. Due to the non-linear narrative, it does take a while to get into it. Since it is not a memoir in the truest sense, it would appeal more to history buffs than those who enjoy memoirs.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. It is moving and at times thought-provoking. If you enjoy reading memoirs with a generous dose of history, I would recommend you pick this book.
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One thing I love about book is how beautifully poetic it is. The writing is seemless and entralling. The way the author writes on loss, on nature, on family is alluring.

I rarely read non-fiction and while it took me a while to adjust to this one, it is undeniable that this book is a masterpiece. The way Kendra Atleework weaves her story back and forth, only few writers know how to pull that off seemlessly and perfectly.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn from the book that the name Atleework is actually a combination of the surnames of Kendra Atleework’s parents — Atlee & Work.

I don’t have much words to describe this book or explain a lot about it but if you enjoy memoirs that are poetic, moving, deep and if you love nature, you should read this book. However, as a trigger warning, this book contains themes of sexual assault so take note.
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Thank you to Algonquin for sending this my way. Miracle Country is a blend of memoir and environmental history where city development is discussed and the environmental changes affect the populations that reside there.
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Miracle Country is an atmospheric, and layered memoir that blends wistful nature writing with Kendra Atleework’s experience growing up, losing her mother, leaving, and eventually returning to the landscape that just wouldn’t let her go. 

Atleework grew up in Owens Valley, a dry and arid area that is east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The Owens River runs through the valley and provides water to communities that would otherwise have disappeared long ago. I always find it interesting to see how people define themselves, and in this memoir Atleework uses the landscape of Owens Valley to do so. The landscape is integral in her writing, and is fused to the story Atleework tells of her family, from how her parents met to her wandering path from, and back to, Owens Valley. 

The nature writing is quite beautiful and is easy to immerse yourself in. The love that Atleework holds for her home is evident in the care with which she writes. I especially appreciated how Atleework weaves in historical narrative to her own examination of the land she grew up on. She integrates quotes from famous nature writers who spent time in Owens Valley, and interviews and stories of the native Paiute tribe that has lived in Owens Valley for years. 

Atleework’s historical musings serve to ground her individual story in the larger context of Owens Valley, where water has been fought over for centuries. Atleework honors the history of the Paiute people, and is honest about the injustices that white settlers committed against their people. She delves into the fraught history of water in Owens Valley, where Los Angeles has been siphoning off much of the water found in the valley for the last century. These events have served to create an underlying tension and passion that only matches the arid climate Atleework writes about, where a single spark can start a fire.

At once a story of finding yourself and growing up, this is also a story of Owens Valley and a family who was as much inspired by it as it was formed by it. Atleework’s memoir is full of beauty, passion, love, hardship, and forgiveness. Thank you to Algonquin Books for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!
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I am huge fan of memoirs. I love reading about other people’s lives. This one did not disappoint at all. A sweeping story of a broken family surrounded by the harsh landscape that they lived in.

Kendra Atleework grew up in an idyllic family. Her parents were very loving to her and her younger brother and sister. Her parents taught them love nature even with wildfires and blizzards that occur where they reside. Kendra’s Mother dies when she is only 16 and her father tries so hard to keep their family together, but inevitably the family becomes estranged. Kendra moves to LA, her brother who has temperament issues eventually winds up in jail. While Kendra is trying to move on from her life she decides to go back to face her demons.

I found this memoir to be very moving. Kendra writes beautiful memories of her mother, her childhood and the environment she grew up in. She is so strong, even at some of her most darkest moments. If you love the combination of nature writing and memoir, this will be the perfect book for you.

I have a copy of this book to giveaway to one lucky winner. If you want an opportunity to win, please comment in this post and I will select a random winner.

Thank you NetGalley and Algonquin for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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In her debut memoir, Kendra Atleework discusses what life was like for her growing up in a desert-like terrain in a very small town. Miracle Country, which comes out July 14th, is eye-opening and allows you to view the world from someone else's mind.
This memoir dives deep into the history of California, Nevada, and the development of water aqueducts and how a desert region developed into a city. Atleework shows she did her research and references many historians and writers whose stories intertwine with her own. While Atleework does add a personal touch to this book by recounting stories of her childhood to the historic and present state of this desert region, I think this novel places a lot of focus on history which I found to be a bit boring at times; however, if you’re a history buff who love to view the world from a first person point of view, then Miracle Country blends past and present in a way that makes this story feel more personal.
If you enjoy learning about the environment and how certain landscapes have changed over the course of history because of humans, then this book will definitely peak your interest. However, if you’re looking for a deep dive into someone’s life, you might not find what you’re looking for.

*I received an ARC from Algonquin Books in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Fascinating.  This is more than a memoir- it's also a short history of the water wars and how Los Angeles siphoned off that valuable resource from the Eastern Sierras.  The more emotional chapters, of course, deal with Atleework's family and life.  Her family was happy in the desert and the, sadly, when she was 16, her mother died, leaving her bereft.  Thrown out into the world, she moves to Los Angeles and Minneapolis but nothing feels quite right until she moves home.  It's always hard to review memoirs because it feels as though you are passing judgment on the author's life and life choices but that's not the case here.  Atleework has made her family stand out on the page and equally importantly, conjured a sense of the nature and conditions in the desert.  It's thoughtful and educational all at once- I learned a lot.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  A great read.
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[Rating 3.5 stars]
Miracle Country is a memoir about growing up in the California desert, and about what home means in the context of family and a harsh landscape.

Having lived in the Southwest for a lot of my life, I already have an affinity for the desert. While I connect with the beauty and the rawness of such places, I feel that the particular area Atleework grew up in has a different context because of its proximity to the excess of life in Los Angeles. It has almost been defined by this history of water conflict. She delves deeply into the history of the region and the issue of water rights, dams and pipelines. To be honest, those parts dragged a bit for me, but I like that she included some voices of Native communities from the area.

I thought the exploration of the idea of home was interesting; how she kind of has a love/hate relationship with the valley, but also did not feel at home anywhere else. I liked the parts about her family members, and how the harsh desert and the death of her mother shaped them all in different ways. I think the interweaving of personal history with actual history got a little confusing, but was an interesting approach. Atleework’s writing was at times powerful and poetic, and conveys her conflicted emotions about the place she calls home. A good choice for readers who enjoy poetic memoirs, and have an appreciation for nature.

Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for providing this review copy.
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It is difficult for me to review a memoir since this is a personal book about the authors life but I will do my best.
A memoir that is powerful in describing the rough landscape.  The drought, heat, wild fires, etc... can’t imagine living in that kind of extreme environment.
  Thank you Algonquin the invitation To this Blog Tour, Kendra Atleework and NetGalley for this arc in exchange of an honest review
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I think for starters I should mention that I’m not a nature person. In my own life (and in my writing), it’s pretty rare for me to wax poetic about the great outdoors. But this doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate other writers who do. “Miracle Country” is a memoir that examines Kendra Atleework’s connection to both the California desert and the impact her mother’s death had on her as a young girl. 

I’m usually a fan of more linear memoirs that describe someone’s story chronologically, but Atleework did a wonderful job linking all of the major events of her life back to her ties to where she grew up in the Owens Valley of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. You can feel her deep kinship with every part of nature, so that the setting almost becomes another relative in her life (just as dear to her as her parents and siblings).

I found that a few different writers came to mind when reading “Miracle Country.” While this doesn’t make the book altogether unique, it did make me feel like Atleework’s writing could be held up next to these other works in worthy comparison. Her journey of healing surrounding the death of her mother and her drive to relate to the wonders of nature reminded me quite a bit of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild.” Atleework also quotes many writers in her book to support her examination of the environment of California. Before I saw Joan Didion’s name in the text, I had already thought of her. Few other writers are able to capture the true mercurial vibe of California like her, and I was glad to see that Atleework referenced her as well in her own writing.
This book also benefitted greatly from the historical aspect that Atleework was able to weave throughout the story. As a California native, I was intrigued by her descriptions of William Mulholland, who did so much to shape how Californians access and view our water supply. Descriptions of Native Americans who battled to keep their land and how early pioneers fought to survive among the wildest of elements (fire, earthquakes, blizzards, you name it) gave this book extra depth that was much appreciated. 

Despite my lack of affinity for the outdoors, I was able to crawl inside Atleework’s world – filled with tackling mountain climbs and crawling through the memories of a mother who was gone way too soon. The easy flow to her writing and her insightful connections to the elements that have formed her life definitely made this a worthwhile read.
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