Set in Appalachia in the years before World War II, Velva Jean Learns to Drive is a poignant story of a spirited young girl growing up in the gold-mining and moonshining South.
One Sunday when she is ten years old, Velva Jean Hart is saved. Life soon brings unwelcome changes: her loving mother becomes ill and dies, and her father leaves on one of his "adventures." While Velva Jean's bossy older sister runs the home, Velva Jean consoles herself by singing and finding companionship with Johnny Clay, her rebellious brother; the infamous Wood Carver, who is rumored to have killed a man; and, when she is a beautiful teenager, Harley Bright, a handsome juvenile delinquent-turned-revival preacher. As their tumultuous love story unfolds, Velva Jean must choose between keeping her hard-won home and pursuing her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry.
Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List — "Great Reads from Booksellers You Trust."
Niven makes some memorable moonspun magic in her rich fiction debut. It's a touching read, funny and wise, like a crazy blend of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, a less morose Flannery O'Connor and maybe a shot of Hank Williams. — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The novel takes hold of your imagination and refuses to let go — even long after you've read the last page. — Costco (Pennie's Book Pick of the Month for August 2009)
Velva Jean makes a charming, bright-eyed narrator (bringing to mind that other delightful young rural protagonist: Scout of "To Kill a Mockingbird"). — The Christian Science Monitor
Ms. Niven is a fluid storyteller. — The Wall Street Journal
Spirited. — Parade Magazine
If [Jennifer Niven] continues to create female characters as strong, as fallible and as appealing as Velva Jean, she has a grand career ahead of her. — Wilmington Star News
Velva Jean Learns to Drive takes us far into this soaring, emotional country, the place where our best music comes from. — Robert Morgan, bestselling author of The Road from Gap Creek and Boone: A Biography
VELVA JEAN LEARNS to... not only drive, but to soar. This beautifully written coming-of-age story captivated me, and I recommend it to anyone who has ever longed to 'live out there.' — Ann B. Ross, author of the bestselling Miss Julia novels