Debuts with Buzz

In 1960s Pennsylvania coal country, fires began burning underground that continue today. Set at the time, this first novel by Sandra Schor and James Kreuzer Award winner Harnett features 11-year-old Brigid Howley, whose family must move in with her estranged grandparents when the burning starts. Even as the family struggles to survive, Brigid uncovers a horrific secret in a bootleg mine shaft that sets the whole town on edge. In-house excitement, especially about that Gary Shteyngart blurb.

Review by Carol Haggas

Review by Carol Haggas

Harnett's deeply atmospheric historical novel of the harsh old mining life captures the despair of a family at the mercy of the earth's elements and their own worst impulses. [Read more...]


Queens College - Memories of childhood visits to her grandfather inspire an award-winning novel for Natalie Harnett ’93


LHU presents author Natalie S. Harnett
>>read more


>>read more




Super Awesome 2015 End-of-Year List
>>read more


Fresh Fiction's Fresh Pick & Review
"...sure to become a classic."
>>read more


Town Bookstore Staff Pick
>>read more


The synopsis of this book is the kind that plants little hooks inside my historically minded brain and pulls on it. Especially the part of my brain that loves hauntingly atmospheric settings set among neglected snapshots of American history.


The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett is the coming-of-age story of Brigid Howley and her family in the 1960s. Set in Centralia, PA., the Howley family is forced to move when the coal fire beneath them causes a sinkhole, killing a beloved relative. This forces the family to move into Brigid's paternal grandparents' house. Complicated family relationships mixed with the emotional aftermath of disaster and death are all shown through the eyes of the Irish-American preteen.


Narrator Luci Christian's youthful charisma provides a natural portrayal of preteen Brigid Howley, who is struggling with family secrets in a poverty-stricken coal town in the 1960s. Christian's clear, delicate voice belies the girl's impoverished upbringing and poor education--but does depict Brigid's naïve hopefulness amid her family's wretched circumstances. ... Christian's voices for the well-developed family members are mostly subtle, allowing the strong characters to flourish. 


This one is a coming-of-age novel and, at the same time, a mystery. It is a family saga and the tragic story of an environmentally devastated region - the Pennsylvania coal-mine fires.


Harnett, Long Island, N.Y., found real life inspiration when doing research for the book.

"I was blown away when I found out about the priest who was rumored to have cursed the town of Centralia in the mid-1800s," Harnett said.

According to the author, when the Mollies heard about this priest speaking out against them, they attacked him. The priest then cursed the entire town, saying that in 100 years, not a single building in the town would stand.

"Amazingly, this curse has pretty much come true due to the mine fires burning beneath Centralia," Harnett said....


The Hollow Ground is an excellent debut from author Natalie Harnett...I'll definitely be looking forward to whatever Harnett comes up with next.


I enjoyed THE HOLLOW GROUND and found it to be an entertaining, and thought-provoking, novel. Highly recommended to fans of literary fiction and even mysteries.


The raging fires and the family dysfunction set a very sad and depressing tone for this book. Yet, Brigid emerges as a strong main character who elicits emotion and sympathy, and the history presented is a very real one. Definitely not an easy read, but definitely a worthwhile one.


Filled with compelling characters, rich prose, engrossing historical detail, and an extraordinary sense of time and place, THE HOLLOW GROUND is exquisitely crafted and tells an unforgettable story that is certain to move readers. 


This story is full of mystery, sorrow, loss, love and survival.


Harnett realistically captures this small mining town and the horrific horrors they deal with from the nightly checks for gas levels to the down turned economy. These towns were devastated by the fires and the fallout from fleeing townsfolk. She takes us into the dysfunctional home of eleven-year-old Brigid Howley. We gain insight into this Irish-American family with secrets and hardship. The story is atmospheric, character driven and beautifully captures this period.


The Hollow Ground is a heartfelt story of survival and embodies a sense of hope as its guiding light.

Sullivan County Democratlogo.png

A coming-of-age novel of subtle grace and compassion. . .

                                    A Featured Author

                                    A Featured Author

Members Say:
"The coal fires in 1960's Pennsylvania provide the background for this book... a family saga, historical novel and a mystery. I really enjoyed it and think it would be an excellent choice for book clubs." - Mary M. (Lexington, KY)

"Ms Harnett's description of Barrendale placed me among the soot, ash, & smoke. I could just picture the land and what it was like down in he bootlegger's hole... - Barbara B. (Alta Loma, CA)

"I highly recommend this book, it is a story you will continue to think about long after you finish reading the book." - Mary S. (Pinson, AL)

"I have enjoyed hundreds of books but The Hollow Ground will stand apart from previous reads in that the strength of the story and the spontaneous and profound understanding I felt with the narrator, Bridget, shook me to my core. A truly fine work....thank you!" - Lydia M. (Virginia Beach, VA)


2014’s Top Books: Our reviewers pick their five favorites

Brigid Howley is as unforgettable as Francie in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” and hands down this is the best novel of 2014.

Book review: A compelling novel with an unforgettable heroine

The best novel so far this year… Harnett’s pitch-perfect rendition of the coming-of-age voice…is achingly real...

                       A Summer Reading Guide Selection

                       A Summer Reading Guide Selection

Telling an old story that is still hot

It is being compared to "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" so the story woven by Harnett, who lives on Long Island, is not lacking for scope or ambition.  


In Natalie S. Harnett’s accomplished debut novel there’s more than a hint of Eugene O’Neill... 


Staff Favorites of 2014


One of the first things I did was invite her to Authors on Main. We really, really wanted to get her here to kick off the series. People are just going to love the book.


This is a devastatingly emotional journey through the heart of a blue-collar Irish-American family that just wants to continue down their path, damn the consequences, even if it means being damned themselves.


...The Hollow Ground was not only an astonishingly well written debut novel, but that I found some measure of healing in the relating.

I am incredibly impressed with Natalie’s first novel, and I hope to have the pleasure of reading whatever she comes up with next! 


Ultimately The Hollow Ground is an unflinching portrait of familial struggle and a timeless examination of the treacherous elements that can both strengthen and relentlessly violate a family’s connection. At once contemplative and energetic, Harnett’s debut is a provocative and eerie novel of suspense, intricacy, and profound feeling.

Notable New Releases


Inspired by the mine fire stories of Centralia and Carbondale, a soon-to-be-released book will bring the story of a troubled family living with the "curse" of their surroundings.

In Natalie S. Harnett's book, "The Hollow Ground," readers are introduced to Brigid Howley, 11, a young girl whose family is forced to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents after underground mine fires ravaged the Pennsylvania coal country she called home.

The family, though, takes strange pleasure in a "curse" laid upon them generations before by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires...


The Hollow Ground is Harnett’s debut novel with a strong sense of place. Ultimately, though, this is the story of a family and the love between a parent and child.


To say this novel is a page-turner is an understatement. . . . A must read for both fans of historical fiction and mystery, The Hollow Ground has an intensity that will continue to burn within me like the abandoned coal mines that played such an integral role in our nation’s history. Highly, highly recommended.

Review by Jan Blodgett

Review by Jan Blodgett

Brigid is no ordinary hard-luck heroine; her voice rings true, offering a matter-of-fact telling that never falls into self-pity or melodrama. Set against the 1960s Pennsylvania coal mine fires, this debut novel is a dark and rewarding read. 

Review by Melissa Leet July 3, 2014

Review by Melissa Leet July 3, 2014

"I have ties to both New York and northeast Pennsylvania," Harnett said.  "I've been going to the Hawley area since I was a baby. . . "


This is very much a coming of age novel in the traditional sense, with a fascinating historical backdrop.


"Basement floors so hot they turned the soles of your shoes gummy. Sidewalks that would have blistered a dog’s paws. Cold water taps running warm despite the chill outside. These were some of the things author Natalie Harnett discovered when she started researching life in the coal-region towns besieged by underground fires."


If you like character driven stories with a historical element and you don't mind hard subjects, this would be a good pick for you!


An impressive debut novel filled with memorable characters and eye-opening historical details of the Pennsylvania coal fires. It’s a story with much darkness, but leaves readers with a light at the end of the tunnel.


. . .a story of resilience well-told. In Brigid Howley, the desperation is consuming.


I enjoyed this novel very much. The style reminded me of Sheri Reynolds’ Rapture of Canaan which is one of my all time favourite novels.


Brigid tells this tale, and for an eleven-year-old, she is pretty precocious. But through her, the power of place in an individual's life is pictured in stark and poignant detail. We cannot help but be moved by its invincibility in these people's lives, because they have such few choices.


This book is reality, with ups and downs, but still a very good story and one I would recommend to anyone interested in a classic character driven story.


Amazon Vine Reviews