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The Book of Lost Friends–unforgettable
The Book of Lost Friends
by Lisa Wingate
Slavery and the Civil War tore families apart—especially Black families. Some of their stories appeared in the newspaper Southwestern Christian Advocate as desperate appeals to locate or discover news of long lost family members. Pastors were encouraged to read them to their congregations, and optimism sprang up in the hearts of many former slaves as they hoped and prayed to be united many years later with family who in countless cases were only a name passed down from parent to child. I can’t imagine the pain parents suffered at having their children ripped away from them and sold often never to be heard from again. The Black slaves were people, but they were regarded as disposable property.
The Book of Lost Friends begins with the story of Hannie Gossett who misses her family desperately. Unable to read or write, she has all of their names recorded in her memory. In 1875, Hannie and Tati who raised her are close to completing a ten year period of working a piece of land that belongs to her former slave owners. Just as the contract’s transfer should be completed, the former master disappears and the contract is put in jeopardy. Hannie begins a journey with great risks to find him. A black woman traveling alone is a dangerous undertaking, and her departure could annul the very contract she is trying to locate.
This novel has a dual timeline. Every other chapter alternates to tell the story of Benny Silva, a young teacher who has a past with secrets but a heart to make a difference for her students growing up in poverty in Augustine, Louisiana, in 1987. Constantly bombarded with negative messages about their worth, these students go to a different school from those who have more prosperous parents. The school building is in bad shape, the students’ attendance and behavior are abysmal, and parent support is almost non-existent.
When Benny discovers and obtains access to a private library of books, she thinks she may have found a motivator for her students. She wins support from some local women the students respect, and the teens become excited about a school project.
As both timelines move forward, it is difficult for the reader to leave one timeline to see where the story is going in the other timeline. In a good dual timeline novel, the reader is equally interested in both timelines and in discovering where they cross or overlap. Lisa Wingate is an expert at storytelling and at weaving her tales together. There are many other fascinating characters, and The Book of Lost Friends quickly became a book I didn’t want to put down. It is so well told that I could put myself in the story imagining vividly the struggles of the former slaves and of the students captive to poverty and dysfunctional families.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. All of the Hannie chapters include a letter to the editor of the Lost Friends column so you can read for yourself this part of history.
2. At the author’s website, lisawingate.com there are valuable resources listed under the heading “for book clubs” that include discussion questions and pictures and information the author gathered by visiting plantations and national parks. There are also links to pertinent interviews and podcasts as well as a database that has been created based on the Lost Friends letters.
Publication: 2020—Ballantine Books (Random House)
Few things are more life affirming than watching an idea that was fledgling and frail in its infancy, seemingly destined for birth and death in almost the same breath, stretch its lungs and curl its fingers around the threads of life, and hang on with a determination that can’t be understood, only felt.
The thing about so many of the kids here—country kids, town kids, a sad majority of these kids—is that their norm is constant drama, constant escalation. Conversations start, grow louder, get ugly, get personal. Insults fly and then lead to pushing, shoving, hair pulling, scratching, throwing punches, you name it…All too often children in Augustine grow up in a pressure cooker.
When you’re a kid in a tough family situation, you’re painfully vulnerable to trying to fill the void with peers. As much as I’m in favor of young love in theory, I’m also aware of the potential fallout. I can’t help feeling that Lil’ Ray and LaJuna need a teenage relationship about as much as I need five-inch stilettos.
We Hope for Better Times–discrimination across the years
We Hope for Better Things
by Erin Bartels
This work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her?
Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home.
All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between.
Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story.
Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War.
This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Revell for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publication: January 1, 2019—Revell
I was getting less twitchy about not having internet access. I didn’t exactly miss hearing the constant beeps notifying me of texts and tweets and status updates. Out here it was just the ambling, quiet life of the country. A comfortable obscurity.
“That’s good money.”
“What do we need it for? We’re making ends meet.”
“Barely. We’re not getting ahead.”
“Ahead of what? If you have enough to live, what do you need more for?”
“There’s no one right path that if you make the wrong choice you’re sunk. Whatever you choose to do, God can use that. Life is always a winding path. It’s only in retrospect that it appears to be a straight and inevitable one.”
Woman of Courage–a glimpse of Quakers in 1837
Woman of Courage
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Author Wanda E. Brunstetter is best known for her fiction books about the Amish. In Woman of Courage, she departs from that focus to write a work of historical fiction whose main character is a Quaker. Amanda Pearson, rejected by her fiancé in New York in 1837, decides to move across the continent to join a missionary couple ministering to the Nez Percé Indians in the Oregon Territory. The first part of her journey is by steamboats and then wagon. At Fort Laramie, she and her father meet up with the guide who is hired to take them the rest of the way by horseback.
Amanda is unprepared for the adventures to come, but she proves to be resilient, courageous, and of strong faith. On her journey she faces the deaths of those she depends on, wild animals, rough mountain men, and Indians from several tribes. Will she make it all the way to Oregon Territory? Can she be dissuaded from her faith in God by the devastations in her life? Will she ever be able to love again?
Brunstetter has researched the time period. She doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for the Quakers, mountain men, or Indians, but portrays them as individuals. This is a Christian book, but it doesn’t play out as a tale where everything works out with magical perfection for the characters who are Christians. They experience internal turmoil and external dangers like nonbelievers, but they have a strong God to rely on during the good times and the bad.
Several times I found myself reading on past my intended stopping place—always a good sign for a book. There are a number of occurrences that I just didn’t predict which keep the book moving at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and interesting. The various settings are described in detail, appropriate to the action in the book and with language that lets the reader visualize the grandeur of nature. A novel with a Christian theme, it contains history, romance, and action along with thought-provoking concerns about evangelizing other cultures.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Historical Fiction
Notes: There are discussion questions at the end of the book. My version also contained a novella, Woman of Hope, based on a characters from Woman of Courage. It is a quick, interesting bonus read, and as expected, because of the brevity of the work, does not hold much character development.
Publication: December 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)
Gray Eagle didn’t mind them teaching his people from the Bible, but it wasn’t right that they expected the Nez Percé to give up many of their customs in favor of the white man’s way of doing things.
She remembered her father saying once that it was important to forgive someone who had wronged you, but that forgiving didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes it was best to keep a safe distance from the person who had done you wrong.
“…God, who I believe is the same as the Great Spirit we have worshiped for so many years. I believe it was God who kept me alive when I was taken from my people. He got me through times when I didn’t think I would survive, and it was Him who brought me home again.”