A teen girl on a quest to find her long-lost mother finds herself on a journey of self-discovery in Kristy Dallas Alley’s moving YA debut, The Ballad of Ami Miles.
Raised in isolation at Heavenly Shepherd, her family’s trailer-dealership-turned-survival compound, Ami Miles knows that she was lucky to be born into a place of safety after the old world ended and the chaos began. But when her grandfather brings home a cold-eyed stranger, she realizes that her “destiny” as one of the few females capable of still bearing children isn’t something she’s ready to face.
With the help of one of her aunts, she flees the only life she’s ever known and sets off on a quest to find her long-lost mother (and hopefully a mate of her own choosing). But as she journeys, Ami discovers many new things about the world…and about herself.
I’d like to think that if I’d been home, they would have told me he was coming. Or that they didn’t know he was coming and that’s why I didn’t know either. I’d like to believe that my family wouldn’t ambush me like that, but after everything that’s happened, believing such things is just about impossible. I’m sure now that they did know, and whether I had been home or not, whether he surprised them or not, it doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t have mattered. I still would have run, and nothing would be different.
I walked up into the yard of the compound that late afternoon without the slightest idea that anything was different. It was early summer, and I had a bucket brimming with the first ripe blackberries and sweet dewberries, an old cloth sack full of odds and ends I’d found, plus my blanket roll, which I always took now that I was allowed to sleep out in the woods. I could go farther that way, find new things to see and maybe bring back. It wasn’t like there were too many people around to do me harm, and those woods were my home—-I knew them better than any stranger ever could. It was too early to be real hot yet, and I was singing and galloping along like just a silly little girl, and then I looked up and everyone was standing real still watching me. I take that back; the man was watching me, and Ruth was, but Papa was watching the man.
He was not as old as either of them but a lot older than me. I guessed he was about the age my mama would be now. My mother got me in sin, with one of the last of the travelers to ever come down the hi-way, but since almost no one could have babies anymore, the ways of thinking on that had changed. Now, Papa argued, it would be a bigger sin not to try to plant more children on God’s still-green earth, and if there was not a suitable husband for a woman who was able, then he guessed the Lord would send her a chance some other way. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” he would say, “that is not always for us to understand.” Papa Solomon had a lot of ideas about the ways things have changed and the messages God is sending to us by way of those changes. He said since Jesus has not come back and the Rapture has not occurred, that is how we know that God means for us to keep on struggling in his name. He will let us know when it’s time to lay down our weary load, and until then, ours is not to wonder why. Our job is to read the signs He is sending and try to do His will. I wonder now if my Papa wasn’t confusing God’s will with his own, but back then it didn’t occur to me that he might not be right about everything. I was raised to question the world, but never my Papa.
Anyway, this man was about the age my father should have been, but I knew he was not my father the second I laid eyes on him. I didn’t know who he was, but as soon as I saw him, the understanding of why he was there flew all over me like an awful swarm of gnats. I closed my eyes and mouth and held my breath against the knowledge, hoping I could make that swarm move on if I wouldn’t didn’t let them in, but I knew I couldn’t. In the best case, he was there to marry me, and failing that, if we didn’t spark to each other in that way, he was there to put his seed in me while everyone prayed it would find fertile ground. Because I was the last hope, and if I could not have a baby, the bloodline would die out. According to Papa, we were some of the last living people in the former state of Alabama, and probably some of the last Godly people on earth. Since my mama was able to have me, there was a chance I was also immune to the sickness that had left most women barren. It was down to me to bring new life into the world, and instead of facing up to it like the Godly woman I was raised to be, all I wanted to do was run away like a little girl.
I guess deep down, I had known this was coming, or something like it. In a way, I had spent my whole life being made ready for it. This was my purpose, they told me. Even my name came from the Hebrew word for mother. But I wasn’t ready. Not for that! It’s one thing to be talked to about such things, but it is something else altogether to just walk up one day and find your possible husband standing in the yard like he has every right to be there.
“Ami,” Ruth said, her voice kind and quiet like always, but also sounding a little bit strange. “There you are, child. We was about to send out the search parties.” This was a little joke, since we scarcely had enough people to scrape together a single search party, much less parties. I didn’t say anything, since I knew as well as she did that she had not been expecting me back any sooner. Also, I did not want to open my mouth at all. It felt real important to hold all of myself in, even my voice.
“Cat got ’‘er tongue?” the man asked Papa with a little laugh. I saw right then how it was. He did not ask me if the cat had my tongue, and he did not address Ruth although she stood closer to him. This was men’s business. It didn’t matter if the cat had my tongue, because I would have no say in the things about to happen.
The author will be raffling off a Print Copy of The Ballad of Ami Miles during the book tour!
About the Author
Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, four kids, three cats, and an indeterminate number of fish. She studied creative writing at Rhodes College in another lifetime and holds a Master of Science in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis.
In an ideal world, she would do nothing but sit on a beach and read every single day of her life, but in reality she’s pretty happy reading on her front porch, neglecting the gardens she enthusiastically plants each spring, and cooking huge meals regardless of the number of people around to eat them. The Ballad of Ami Miles is her debut novel.
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