As an Appalachian Studies Scholar, I am always wary of a book set in any part of Appalachia, or in which Appalachian populations play a central role. This is due to negative stereotypes that are so pervasive in American popular culture. O’Dell’s One of Us, however, does more good than harm in its exploration of Pennsylvania small-town superstitions versus an Ivy League educated forensic psychologist. Upon returning to his hometown of Lost Creek, Dr. Sheridan Doyle stumbles upon a dead body linked to his family’s wretched past. Walking around a coal mining town in his designer clothes makes him an easy target for the daughter of the wealthy coal baron. While the two families have been linked for generations by murder and greed, Doyle finds he is only beginning to learn the sordid truth. As he works with the local detective to solve several murders, past and present, Doyle realizes that he may not know everything about his family, at the same time questioning the things he thought were true.
This book is gripping from the first line, keeping readers guessing through the twists and turns of this novel that bridges the past and the present. Old coal mining towns and humble Appalachian ways of life are pitted against designer clothes, the media, and economic change throughout the novel. Accused of referring to the people of his hometown as “yokels,” Doyle’s character resolves nicely by showing how the two opposing cultures can learn to respect each other. The typical focus on the negative aspects of life in a coal mining town is largely avoided, revealing not only respect for negative past events but a dedication to improving the future.