Mary Call has promised her dying father to keep her brother and sisters together forever on the mountain, and never to take any help from strangers. She is determined to keep her word. No matter what. At first she is sure she can manage. Romey, Ima Dean, and Devola help gather herbs to sell in town; the riches of the mountains will surely keep the family clothed and fed. But then winter comes, fast and furious, and Mary Call has to learn that the land where the lilies bloom is also a cruel and unforgiving place, and it may take more than a promise to keep her family together.
Mary Call, a 14-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, has a serious problem. Her father, a dirt-poor tenant farmer, is dying. On his deathbed, he makes Mary Call vow to keep the family together and protect her "cloudy-headed" older sister, Devola, from marrying their "ignorant and greedy" landlord, Kiser. With intelligence and steely determination, Mary Call shoulders a burden that would crush a lesser soul. She teaches Devola, younger brother Romey and little sister Ima Dean 'wildcrafting' (the harvesting of wild medicinal plants) to earn enough money to survive. When her father dies, May Call buries him and keeps his death a secret so the children won't be sent to an orphanage. Mary Call deftly sidesteps nosy townspeople, works tirelessly to keep her siblings' spirits up, and begins a dangerous game with Kiser-allowing him just enough courtship with Devola to keep gifts of food coming, but always dodging a marriage commitment. Mary Call's story is beautifully written, evoking not only the physical hardship of the children's lives but also the terrible emotional toll on Mary Call. Eventually, Mary Call learns that sometimes a promise should be set aside. Given the book's overall intensity, some may find the ending a letdown. 1989 (orig. 1969), HarperCollins Publishers, Turner