This dramatic first novel by a magazine journalist and seasoned author of children's books is set in the 1920s in the mining country of West Virginia, where Emily Jenkins, a fiery tomboy in her late teens, lives with her family on a small farm. One June day, her clairvoyant mother, Ada, clutches Emily's arm with cold fingers just before they hear ""a muffled boom [that] sounded like a mattress falling in a meadow."" The explosion in the coal mine takes the lives of her father, her brother and her first love. In their struggle to get by on their own, Emily and her mother accept $30 from the Appalachian Light and Power Company for permission to build high-tension towers on their farm. Meanwhile, Emily sells mushrooms, blackberries and goat cheese to a hotel in White Sulphur, a short train ride away. There she meets a supervisor of the power company named Daniels, who plies her with drink and seduces her. She vows revenge. When the towers begin to go up, one of the linemen, Joseph Gershon, is severely injured in a rainstorm and is taken in and nursed by Ada. Emily, almost against her will, learns about his unhappy history as a Jewish migr from Russia and about his passion for electrical work. The two fall in love, and the author evokes a powerful, moving romance that is sorely tested when Emily's demand for vengeance leads to a fracas that compels the couple to flee. The story's abrupt resolution may disappoint, but Kessler's lyrical prose is seductive, and so is his compassionate portrayal of the hillbilly characters whose lives become a working-class American tragedy. (Mar.) Forecast: Kessler's vivid account should interest readers of Denise Giardina and Mary Lee Settle, who have written eloquently about coal miners' lives, and of Lee Smith, whose fiction is set in Appalachia. If booksellers handsell to fans of those writers, sales will increase; and it's worth noting that David Baldacci's current bestseller, Wish You Well, also deals with the lives of Southern coal miners.