As soon as you walk into a bookstore, or enter the web site of an online book retailer, you are immediately confronted with genre. The genre labels are there of course to direct the reader to the type of book(s) he or she likes. But, while it is clear that genre classification is necessary to help readers navigate the seemingly infinite sea of books available for sale, is it possible that they can also thwart a reader’s search for the right book?
One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is often listed under the genre Legal Thriller because it involves a criminal trial and a defendant falsely accused of rape. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time because it was part of my high school English curriculum—I did not have to find it in a vast sea of books. Twenty-five years later, I purchased it again in a bookstore, solely because I enjoyed the first time. I am not confident that I would have found To Kill a Mockingbird if I had to rely solely on genre classification to guide me.
I love To Kill a Mockingbird because it is a coming of age story starring Scout, a spunky tomboy and her adventures in a southern town. Harper Lee’s description of Scout’s world is so vivid that it allowed me to live vicariously in a different world and at a different time. I felt the warm breeze, saw the giant oak’s boughs sway, and shuddered at the sound of a hate-filled mob gathering. Her characters were brought to life through their words and actions, and they became familiar to me. They also taught lessons that resonated with me. The reclusive and enigmatic Boo Radley and the quiet, determined and principled Atticus reinforced the essential principles of compassion, kindness and justice over prejudice, hatred and injustice. Boo and Atticus demonstrated the need for people to take a risk and literally “stick their neck out” when necessary to defend inviolate principles and values. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is about a criminal trial involving accusations of rape, and it should be considered a Legal Thriller. But, while the legal process is integral to To Kill a Mockingbird, it cannot define it.
Similarly, with regard to my novel, Long Hill Home, I have been advised by professionals in the industry to use the words “Legal,” “Thriller” and “Criminal” in any discussion of genre. While it is true that Long Hill Home is about a crime and the legal process, and it has moments that are downright dark and terrifying, I struggle with labeling it accordingly. It is all of those things, and fans of criminal, legal and thriller fiction will not be disappointed. My concern is that readers who do not search out those genres, but who would otherwise fully embrace and enjoy the themes and elements of Long Hill Home, may not find it.
Long Hill Home is a story of three very different people– strangers, whose lives collide as a result of a crime. The victim of the crime, Kelly Malloy, is a wife, a mother and an attorney who is brutally attacked while running along the banks of the Brandywine River. A lonely eighteen-year-old boy, Chad McCloskey, stumbles across the victim immediately after the attack, and he is falsely accused of the crime and imprisoned pending trial. Maria Hernandez, a young woman who emigrated illegally from Mexico, is reluctantly thrust into the role of witness to the crime, putting her in jeopardy of deportation only weeks before she is to give birth to her child. Readers of Long Hill Home will intimately know Kelly, Chad and Maria, and they will vicariously experience their struggles to triumph over adversity and find security and love. Readers of Long Hill Home will run through wooded trails and mossy river banks of the Brandywine River Valley, sit in the eighteenth floor office of a downtown law firm, stand on a litter-strewn sidewalk in a poor section of Wilmington, shudder with fear in the shower room of a maximum security prison, and gaze out of the top of a one-hundred year old stone water tower that presides over all of these places.
Yes, there is a crime, a legal process, and suspense in Long Hill Home. But I hope that people who do not gravitate toward those genres will at least thumb through a copy at their local store and see that it is also a story about relationships, challenges and adversity, and the importance of measuring people based on their character and not their economic, racial or social status.