A relentlessly compelling historical novel that brings to life all the human drama and daily struggles of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era. Elsa is the ugly duckling in her Texas family, feeling unappreciated and unloved throughout childhood. So, when handsome neighbor Rafe Martinelli shows an interest, how can she resist? Of course, there are consequences and Elsa winds up as a farmer's wife just as drought and dust storms are taking over America's Great Plains. Like so many millions, Elsa and her family are forced to head west, hoping to find work and a better life in California. But, if you know any history, or have ever read THE GRAPES OF WRATH, you know that workers faced tough times in the west too. The work was seasonal. Families squeezed into sub-standard tented towns. Wages kept decreasing. There wasn't enough food. And even for those who found work, company housing and stores took full advantage of the desperation of the newcomers. And locals resented the influx of the "Okies" -- so the outsiders also faced prejudice and discrimination at every turn. One of the things I like best about historical fiction is the way it translates dry history into human story. And this book does an exceptional job embedding all the drama of this era into compelling prose. It's hard to put the book down, even though it's a hard book to read. I finished the book better informed about life during the 1930s and inspired, once again, by the strength and resilience of the human spirit and by the power of love. And, with the reminder that even though challenges throughout history change, people do not.
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I received a free electronic ARC of this exceptional historical novel from Kristin Hannah, Netgalley, and a personal invite from St. Martin's Press, the publisher. I have read this novel of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. As usual, Kristin Hannah takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as we accompany this true grit Italian family in the 1930s through the years of drought, the plains states dustbowl, and the depression, as Elsa Wilcott of the Texas panhandle town of Dalhart chooses to make drastic changes to her future plans. A survivor of childhood rheumatic fever, Elsa was shuffled off to the side, treated as an invalid with no saving graces by her busy family. Though the eldest of three daughters, the family chose to isolate her in her room, where she read everything she could get her hands on. It was considered by her mother that she was too ugly to even consider marriage and children, not long for this world with her rheumatoid-induced heart problems, thus not worth educating, and allowed only Sunday worship service and her walks to the city library as a way to socialize. Most painfully, her entire family refused to include her in their lives at home as well as out in the community. The wealthiest family in Dalhart, there is no excuse for limiting her socialization and education, but she is powerless in their arguments and heartbroken by their excuses. Her only friend was her now deceased Grandfather, who gave her the advice she is going to base the rest of her life on. He said, "Don't worry about dying, Elsa. Worry about not living. Be brave." At 25, she decides to take her future into her own hands. Completely naive with little interaction with people and normal activities, she begins to make her own choices even if she has to rely on the information attained from novels. And it was a mess, for a time, her life. She was banned from returning to her own home after one of her decisions backfires, but it may be for the best. The farming Martinelli family, though reluctant to fold her into their world, are even at first glance warmer and kinder than her own. And the lifestyle - the chores and patterns of life on the farm are wonderfully exciting to this city girl. It is with a full heart that she adapts to life on a working farm. And then the drought begins. The Great Plains loses all of its topsoil - millions of tons of it - to the severe winds as year after year the rains don't come. Change is coming. Can Elsa Wilcott Martinelli adapt fast enough to survive this, too? Can she be that brave?
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