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 arranges a marriage to 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.
Thank you so so much to TBR and Beyond Tours, author Kristy Dallas Alley, and Swoon Reads for providing me with a coy of this wonderful book in exchange for an honest review. To see the rest of the TBR and Beyond Tour Schedule for The Ballad of Ami Miles please click here!
And here we have another novel that I wished I would’ve read when I was in middle/high school (mind you I know this book was not out yet). The story of Ami and her journey of potentially being one of the last females on the planet to have children is such a heavy story to tell. Ami is only sixteen and she has grown up her whole thinking that she had to reproduce with a man in order to please God. Ami’s internal conflict of having please God or find her own purpose in the world was realistic and her thoughts were truly that of a sixteen year old girl faced with being impregnated by a strange man old enough to be her father.
Alley does a wonderful job of using Ami’s internal monologue to give us more information about the world without having to info-dump it. All the information was relevant and well spaced out within the novel. It also showcased how smart Ami was in a world that didn’t always appreciate women like they should. The setting of the book is also noteworthy. It reminded of The Last of Us without the clickers. I could visualize the abandoned buildings that Ami passed on her journey as well as the forest and rivers around her. One thing I can say about this book is that I wished it were longer. I want to get to know Ami more and find out how her life is years later. I haven’t heard anything surrounding a sequel, but hey a girl can wish.
Overall, this book tackles sexism, racism, and many other elements in a dystopian world, but Alley’s storytelling gives this story a unique voice in the genre. I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoyed Agnes at the End of the World.
I would like to say a really big thank you to Kristy Dallas Alley for taking the time to answer my interview questions. Her answer were thoughtful and have loads of insight into being a writer.
1. What sort of research did you conduct for this novel?
Since Ami knows how to forage for edible plants, I did some research about native plants in the southeast and the practice of foraging and wildcrafting. That’s something I’ve always been interested in, so I knew a little, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t give anyone the idea to eat a plant that’s actually poisonous or anything like that. Of course that research only shows up in the book in the form of one or two plants mentioned in passing. I also researched the history of Lake Eufaula, where part of the book is set, and actually stayed overnight at Lake Point State Park where the communal settlement Ami finds is set. I changed very little about it except to give it the wear and tear of a hundred years. And I researched traditional Appalachian ballads.
2. How did the idea for The Ballad of Ami Miles come to you?
There is an abandoned trailer dealership by the side of the highway in Alabama that we used to pass every summer on the way to the gulf beaches of Florida. I started to think it looked like the setting of a post-apocalyptic novel, and to imagine the people who might live there in the aftermath of a disaster.
3. When a reader reaches the end of your novel, what would you like the takeaway to be?
That’s a difficult question to answer without feeling like I’m spoiling something! I hope that Ami and her story will stay with the reader in such a way that they find themselves thinking of her from time to time, as I do sometimes with after finishing books that I love. And maybe if they find themselves faced with a choice between falling back on indoctrination or looking at things on their own, taking new information into account, that they will choose the latter.
4. Do you see any of yourself in Ami?
Parts of Ami’s story are a more extreme version of my own experiences, but as a person she is much more inclined to be dutiful and good than I am. She looks for ways to do the right thing and still have that work within the understanding of the world she’s been taught, whereas I am much more likely to completely reject old ideas the second I see the flaw in them.
5. If you had to choose a song to describe Ami’s journey, what song would you choose?
That’s a tough one! I really toyed with the idea of having Jessie write an actual ballad for Ami, which would have made such a nice answer here. There’s a reference to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” in the book, and I like the way it represents the end goal for Ami and her journey, so we’ll go with that.
6. What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you and how do you manage it?
Probably time. It takes me a looong time to get ready to actually begin. I like to incubate a character and a voice in my head for a long time before I ever put a word on the page, and by all accounts that is the absolute wrong way to write a book because the danger is that you’ll never do it. And poor Ami did spend far too long wandering in the wilderness of my brain, only to be partially written and then left there again for long stretches of time. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, and that leap from my mind to the page is a leap of faith that can be scary to take. And then of course once the whole thing is written, the process of editing and rewriting and publishing is maddeningly slow.
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Be prepared to accept constructive criticism and to “kill your darlings.” We can get very attached to what we’ve written and very defensive when anyone suggests changes, but most writers will tell you once it’s done that their first draft was hot garbage. If you’re writing with the idea that other people are going to read that work, you have to be able to listen when they tell you they found a part confusing or that the voice of a character didn’t ring true for them. That’s the only way you can make it better.
Get your copy of The Ballad of Ami Miles here!
Meet 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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