In The Ballad of Ami Miles, debut novelist Kristy Dallas Alley pens a coming-of-age story against a backdrop of a post-apocalyptic America where few women can still bear children. Ami’s ancestors saw the warning signs of the country’s collapse. They stocked up and created a self-sufficient compound called Heavenly Shepherd to survive what would come next.
In the years that followed, the government tried to control the rapidly decreasing birth rate by compelling women who were still fertile to have babies. Ami’s mother went on the run shortly after Ami was born, fleeing the government agents who would have taken her to a facility to be “bred to strangers.” Ami stayed behind with her aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Papa Solomon, Ami’s conservative preacher grandfather, serves as the patriarch of the family, holding great power over all of them. While they live comfortably with food and shelter, it comes with Papa’s harsh religious control. His statements are taken as commands. “I was raised to question the world,” Ami says, “but never Papa.” Ami is taught that taking pride in her work is a sin and her purpose in life is to have children and to raise a family — “to try to plant more children on God’s still-green earth,” as Papa puts it.
While Ami “had spent [her] whole life being made ready” for motherhood, she didn’t expect it to come so soon. One afternoon she arrives home after a foraging trip to discover that her grandfather has invited a man over. This stranger, well over twice her age, has come to take her away to bear his children. She is expected to leave with him in the morning to start a new life together, whether she wants to or not.
Ami’s aunts and uncles, however, have been planning for this day. They tell Ami that her mother is alive and where she may be. In just a matter of hours, Ami sets out alone on a quest to find her mother, leaving behind everything she knows. Days later, she arrives at a settlement, an old vacation site that sits on the edge of a lake. She finds a sympathetic woman who tells that, yes, her mother does live there, but she is off on a foraging trip and will be back within the week. As Ami waits for her mother, she joins this new community and begins an eye-opening journey, discovering what the world is really like outside of Heavenly Shepherd — and away from the oppressive control of her grandfather.
As she meets peers her age for the first time, Ami quickly finds out that she has a lot to learn. In an environment of openness and freedom, she comes to grips with new ways of looking at the world.
Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, and her focus on the power of books and librarians shines in this novel as Ami explores a library for answers to her questions. In our current post-truth era, Ami’s discovery of the power a library can hold is an important lesson. Young readers stepping outside their comfort zones — or just thinking about it — will see themselves in Ami, and anyone who loves coming-of-age stories and dystopian themes will enjoy The Ballad of Ami Miles.
Zack Barnes is an assistant professor of special education in the Teaching and Learning Department at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.
Tagged: Book Reviews