In 1970s Vinton County, the poorest notch in the failing coal belt, a teenage boy has few options. Jimmy Lee Hickam, narrator of The Essay, Steubenville native Robin Yocum’s superior novel, is ostracized by his classmates, making his life even more intolerable. His father is an angry, abusive drunk; one brother is in the penitentiary in Mansfield, serving time for burglary and arson, and another, perhaps the family’s success story, works for a traveling carnival.

Yocum’s description of Jimmy Lee’s life as an outcast is so bleak that the reader will be heartened when the high school football coach takes an interest by paying for a pair of socks the boy can’t afford. Jimmy Lee’s fortunes look even better when, encouraged by a resolute English teacher, he wins an essay contest.

Another teacher, resentful because her daughter didn’t win, begins a campaign to discredit Jimmy Lee’s work, allowing her daughter to advance — an act that would destroy Jimmy Lee’s college hopes.

The Essay is a gritty stand-up-and-cheer story that honors the dedication of teachers, and shows that support, grace and kindness can come from the most unusual sources.

The Essay (256 pages, hardcover) costs $24.95 from Arcade Publishing. Robin Yocum’s debut novel, Favorite Son, involved a morally conflicted Summit County official.

Pepper Martin returns

Things are looking up in Pepper Martin’s life. In Wild Wild Death, the eighth book in Brecksville author Casey Daniels’ entertaining series about a private detective for the dead, Pepper was laid off from her job as a cemetery tour guide, and her relationship with hot cop Quinn Harrison was on the outs again.

In the new Supernatural Born Killers, Pepper has not only been rehired, but promoted to community relations manager, and the ghosts who once came to her with demands are now offering their services: One will write the newsletter, another manage the budget, and what they ask in return is trifling: a spectral secretary will run the office for just some pink roses on her grave now and then.

With her new staff of stiffs, it would seem Pepper now has all the time in the world to shop at Beachwood Mall and schmooze rich patrons. Not so: Up pops a real client, Quinn’s former partner, who predicts someone else will die unless she solves his case, which she must do while fending off an amorous millionaire and learning about Cleveland creation Superman.

Supernatural Born Killers (294 pages, softcover) costs $7.99 from Berkley Prime Crime.

Explore Ohio oddities

James Renner is known for his investigative journalism and books about true crime, especially his research into the 1989 murder of Bay Village girl Amy Mihaljevic. His new book, It Came from Ohio, includes stories about werewolves, giant frogs that smell like almonds and a sea serpent that cruises Lake Erie.

Renner approaches his weird subjects with the same polish as any other, interviewing sources about flying saucers in Portage County and ghosts at the University of Akron’s Hower House. One UFO story, he reveals, is honored in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; another chapter tells of the Salem Mothman, not seen since 1967 but now a beloved folklore figure.

It Came from Ohio (111 pages, softcover) costs $7.99 from Gray & Co. James Renner lives in Akron and is raising money for a film based on the search for Amy Mihaljevic’s killer.

Buckeye Book Fair

Casey Daniels, James Renner and Robin Yocum are among the 80-some authors who will appear at the 25th Buckeye Book Fair, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Fisher Auditorium of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster. Admission is $2; for the list of authors, visit www.buckeyebookfair.com.

Events

Barnes & Noble Booksellers (28801 Chagrin Blvd., Woodmere) — Huffington Post managing editor Jimmy Soni discusses and signs his book (with speechwriter Rob Goodman) Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar, 2 p.m. today (rescheduled from Oct. 25).

Learned Owl Book Shop (204 N. Main St., Hudson) — Sharon Hunter signs her debut novel The Rancher’s Wife, 7 p.m. Monday; Jim Harold, author of Jim Harold’s Campfire: True Ghost Stories, signs his book and welcomes guests to contribute to a podcast, 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday; Jeff Krehbiel signs Immaculate Fracture, 1 p.m. Saturday.

Akron-Summit County Public Library (Fairlawn-Bath branch, 3101 Smith Road) — Akron author Marvin Brown discusses and signs his suspense novel Jigsaw Man, 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Akron-Summit County Public Library (Nordonia Hills branch, 9458 Olde Eight Road, Northfield) — Macedonia author R.K. Avery discusses and signs her mystery thriller Be Careful What You Wish For, 7 p.m. Thursday. Registration requested; call 330-467-8595.

Buehler’s (3626 Medina Road, Medina) — Ann Freedlander Hunt, great-granddaughter of the founder of Wooster’s former Freedlander’s Department Store, signs Gone But Not Forgotten: A Freedlander Legacy, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Beachwood branch, 25501 Shaker Blvd.) — As part of the Local Perspectives series, Kent State University professor Varley O’Connor, author of The Master’s Muse, about George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clercq, will sign her book and answer questions from 3 to 4 p.m. Saturday, following a one-hour discussion. Register at 216-831-6868.

Visible Voice Books (1023 Kenilworth Ave., Cleveland) — Cliff Anthony signs his comic novel Page-A1, 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights) — Kent Warren, author of Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch: A Guide to the Homeric Punkhole, 1980-2012, talks about the underground poetry culture of Northeast Ohio, 7 p.m. Saturday.

— Barbara McIntyre

Special to the Beacon Journal

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or lsherwin@thebeaconjournal.com. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.