Good-bye and Keep Cold provides an unflinching and distressing look at one family’s life in the early 1970’s in the back country of Eastern Kentucky. Davis, an environmental activist, shows the personal side of the destructiveness of strip mining. She argues that there is real ambivalence in people’s attitudes toward the mines and the mountains that they destroy. The love of the mountaintops and “hollers” keeps the people there; the necessities of survival cause them to ignore the scarred landscapes of “mountain-top removal,” even after the Strip Mining Act of 1975. This dichotomy is reflected in a heated argument between Henry John and Annie when he accuses the indigenous population of sloth and laziness; she says that the lack of craftsmanship is a mark of despair. This ambivalence is also at work in the Combs family: The mining operation claims Ed’s life and later gives Frances a much-needed job. Davis also uses Eastern Kentuckian canon about the paramount importance of belonging to an established family in order to highlight the merits and the destructiveness of such interdependency and to show the parallel development of both daughter and mother toward emotional and social maturity.
“We’re a little colony of outsiders,” Frances says, feeling alienated from life in Cauley Creek. She will not discuss her childhood as an orphan, and she satisfies her desperate need for belonging with Ed, Annie, and her children. Devastated when Ed dies, Frances becomes disorganized and detached. Banker is the only stable adult in this family, and he only listens. Henry John, a second-generation Irish immigrant and an outsider himself,...
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Good-bye and Keep Cold was Jenny Davis’ first novel, and it is a hallmark treatment of a dysfunctional family. Many psychologically realistic young adult stories allow the problem to supersede the plot or provide an unrealistic happy ending. In this novel, real problems are faced head on, and the ambiguous ending offers both hope and despair.
Davis has published other books for young adults. In Sex Education (1988), a class project about caring for someone has disastrous consequences for two students when they take on a young pregnant girl as their assignment. In Checking on the Moon (1991), the protagonist helps her grandmother run a coffee shop in a dangerous section of Pittsburgh. When her brother’s girlfriend is raped, the community works together to reclaim its neighborhood. Davis, who also writes short stories and poems, says that “a good deal of what I write is hope on paper.”
This is Davis’ gift to the young reader. Her protagonists must overcome terrible odds, but those who persevere and have valor will emerge victorious and whole. She is not afraid to treat tough subjects and to let her readers work through the challenges facing their generation, yet she is sensitive enough always to offer them hope for the future.