Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Sixteen Brides" by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Add this book to my list of favorites!  I loved, loved, loved it!  I can't wait to get my own copy.

At first I was a little daunted, because Whitson kept switching points of view between different characters, and I thought that if I had to try to keep sixteen women straight, I was sunk.  Fortunately, she really only focuses on six.  She also writes some sections from the POV of other characters, but I'll get to that.

So what happens is this: in post-Civil War St. Louis, sixteen women join something called the Ladies Emigration Society.  They're promised that if they go out to Nebraska, they can get their own homesteads for free -- as unmarried women, they are the heads of their own households and eligible just like any man would be.  Of course, they'll also have to "prove up" on their homesteads by working the land and living on it for five years.  Most of the women are widows, and one has a son.

What these women don't know is that the man who runs the Ladies Emigration Society has promised men back in Nebraska that he's bringing out a trainload of eligible women who want to get married.  When the women get to Nebraska and find this out, eight of them decide finding a new husband sounds like a fine idea.  Eight of them do not.  And six of those dissenters band together to claim four adjoining homesteads.

What happens next is the sort of story I could read over and over.  And, when I get my own copy of this, I'll do just that.  They build a sod house, they start raising crops, and the story is chock full of details of their day-to-day lives.  I absolutely love a story about people figuring out how to live in a new environment and not only survive but thrive.  That's why the first season of Lost will always be my favorite.  It's why I read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books over and over as a child.  That sort of thing fascinates me.

It so happens that several of those six women also find themselves attracted to men in their vicinity, and some of them do get engaged by the end.  There's a good bit of romance here, and it's also exactly the kind I like.  Not too gooshy, not the main plot of the story.  These relationships feel realistic and interesting, not convenient or unbelievable.  Part of that is because the characters are, for the most part, very well-rounded, with flaws and foibles, strengths and weaknesses.  I want to be friends with all of them.

If I belonged to a book club, I would insist we read this.

Particularly Good Bits:

No rule had been made that a gentleman wouldn't break for a determined southern belle (p. 33).

Was this how it worked?  A man carried the burden of grief, and for a while it obscured everything else around him, until slowly, the burden started to shrink until it could fit inside his heart instead of blocking out everything else in the world.  And finally, it folded in on itself.  And while it still remained a part of you, and you knew it always would, it made room in your heart for hope (p. 235).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence including an attempted rape that is non-graphic but does use that word.

This is my sixth book read and reviewed for the I Love Library Books challenge.

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