Jimmy Lee Hickam grew up along Red Dog Road, a dead-end strip of gravel and mud buried deep in the bowels of Appalachian Ohio. It is the poorest road, in the poorest county, in the poorest region of the state. To make things worse, the name Hickam is synonymous with trouble. Jimmy Lee hails from a heathen mix of thieves, moonshiners, drunkards, and general anti-socials that for decades have clung to both the hardscrabble hills and the iron bars of every jail cell in the region. This life, Jimmy Lee believes, is his destiny, someday working with his drunkard father at the sawmill, or sitting next to his arsonist brother in the penitentiary. There aren't many options if your last name is Hickam.
An inspiring coach and Jimmy Lee's ability to play football are the only things motivating him to return for his junior year of high school—until his visionary English teacher cuts him a break and preserves his eligibility for the coming football season. To thank her, Jimmy Lee writes a winning essay in the high school writing contest. When irate parents and the baffled administration claim he has cheated, his teacher is inspired to take his writing talent as far as it can go, showing him the path out of the hills of Appalachia.
Terrific characterizations, surprising revelations, gut-wrenching past betrayals, and an unforgettable cast of characters born of the dusty, worn-out landscape of southeastern Ohio make The Essay a powerful, evocative, and incredibly moving novel.