I’d just like to point out that this book reads like a 1920s-themed Mad Libs with insert-the-kooky-phrase for the first chapter, and after that it reads like a hard-boiled detective novel went rotten and started to smell like sulfur. Less hard-boiled and more, I don’t know, rotten-egg detective novel.
Claire Of The Wild Rose Inn¸ Jennifer Armstrong, 1994.
So, there is apparently a book in between this one and the Civil War one, and it’s set in 1898 and it’s about a girl who wants to go to a women’s college instead of getting married. It sounds really boring, and I wasn’t able to find a copy of it anywhere, but maybe one day I will. Until that day we’ll skip right to Claire, which is like every stereotype of a Roaring Twenties-themed novel all wrapped up into one somewhat distressing package.
Claire is seventeen years old, and is one of the same Mackenzie family who’s owned the stupid Wild Rose Inn since whatever whatever in the first book. Her father died in the Great War, and ever since she’s been basically running the inn with her semi-incompetent mother and one-year-younger brother. Claire does most of the work while her mother spaces out and dates Jack Handy, the ever-present foes of the Mackenzie family and former owner of the Ship tavern, which he sold and the new owner made into a speakeasy. So as the first chapter opens, Claire is enjoying an illegal speakeasy with her brother Bob (who is a drunk, at the age of sixteen, which must be quite the effort when alcohol is illegal) and her friend Kitty Trelawney when she makes the acquaintance of a “handsome newspaper man” named Hank Logan, who’s in town investigating its rum-running history.
So last week we covered DC’s treatment of English settlers on the prairies, now let’s see what Dear America’s take on it is.
Land Of The Buffalo Bones: The Diary of Mary Ann Elizabeth Rodgers, An English Girl In Minnesota, New Yeovil, Minnesota, 1873, Marion Dane Bauer, 2003.
Right from the get-go you know this is going to be depressing. Just look at the title! It’s like calling it “Land Of Terrible Things: Now With More Terrible Things.” You just know that there is not a shred of happiness to be found within this book.
It’s time for another compare-and-contrast between a Dear Canada and Dear America book. This time: Western settlement!
A Prairie As Wide As The Sea: The Immigrant Diary of Ivy Weatherall, Milorie, Saskatchewan, 1926, Sarah Ellis, 2001.
It’s Sarah Ellis again, whom I love! She is fantastic, and this book is fascinating. Next week we’ll cover Dear America’s book on the same topic and discuss the similarities and differences. Both books are about English immigrant girls from lower-middle-class families who come to the prairies after buying into promises of untold wealth for the hardworking. Spoiler alert: things do not go as planned.
This is the most god-awful book of the most god-awful series that my suburban library carried around 2000-2002. I really hope they’ve weeded it off their shelves because it’s a horrid example of the worst dreck being pushed off to innocent teens in the guise of “historical fiction.”
Brides of Wildcat County, Scandalous: Eden’s Story, Jude Watson, 1995.
The cover ought to tell you exactly how bad this book is going to be, and it ALMOST does. Imagine the book being about 50% worse than the cover and you’ll be in the correct ballpark. This is the second book out of a five-book series, where the main plot is that there is this pathetic mining town called Last Chance in the vague time period of “after the end of the Civil War, before the turn of the century” and in the locale of “The West,” and the mining executives have decided to import a bunch of women to encourage pathetic miners to stay there. This cunning plan seems to get a lot of women who are living out their Exciting Dreams, rather than the realistic women who would respond to an ad for “Fine Ladies, Daring and Adventurous” (i.e., prostitutes, criminals, and poor women with no other options). Each book focuses on a different woman.
This book is about Eden, who “makes her living at the poker tables,” but is somehow a Classy Lady, despite the fact that a woman who made a living gambling would 100% not be a Classy Lady in this time period, at all, ever, goodnight. The book opens with Eden trying to get some sad sack to propose to her, and then turning him down when he does, and ruminating on Josiah Bullock, the son of the mining company and one of the brilliant schemers of this “imported women” plan. It is abundantly clear from Page 6 that they’re going to end up together while she’s thinking about his long hair and moody eyes.
Let’s return to Dear Canada. I have some well-deserved gushing to do over this book, especially since the author (the incomparable Sarah Ellis) had the amazing Joy Parr help with the historical detail—Joy Parr is one of the absolute leading lights of Canadian children’s history, and I relied very very very heavily on her books during some portions of my Master’s thesis. She’s amazing, Sarah Ellis is amazing, this book is amazing, let’s carry on.
Days Of Toil And Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, Almonte, Ontario, 1887, Sarah Ellis, 2008.
I’ve mentioned before how Dear America and Dear Canada take the same events or time periods in history and look at them from different points of view, which I think is an awesome trend and one that would be terrific to include in a school lesson (the Revolutionary War books are particularly interesting for this, but there’s also Japanese internment and Western immigration). This would then be the counterpart to Barry Denenberg’s atrocious So Far From Home. Where that is kitschy and relies heavily on a weird voice and has extremely little detail, Sarah Ellis’s book is so bursting over with detail and intelligent characterization that it’s a totally different experience. Also notable is that this is one of the few children’s books I’ve come across that doesn’t commit the sin of presentism, which I’ll get into during the meat of the review, but Flora is thoroughly realistic as an eleven-year-old in 1887. She doesn’t act, think, or behave like a girl from 2015 transported back in time—it’s very refreshing and I wish all books could pull this off so seamlessly.