Desert Isle Keeper
Ever Faithful is a terribly cute retro-romance that proves ‘traditional’ doesn’t have to equal ‘boring’; in fact its slow-burning romances and sweet courtships provide beautiful entertainment for the reader.
It’s 1933 and Elsie Brookes is working as a maid at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge. She figures that two more years of doing the laundry and freshening up cabins will finally put her dream – entering college to take a teaching course at the University of Montana and hopefully being allowed to cultivate her bubbling interest in science – within touching distance. With her best friends Mary and Rose working at her side, life is a struggle but they’re all happy together, supportive and encouraging about the ambitions that keep them going. Elsie’s biggest worry is her rheumatic mother, whose fragile health keeps her anchored to the Wyoming area and prevents her enjoying much of a social life.
Then terrible news arrives. Mammoth Hot Springs and many of Yellowstone’s smaller hotels are going to be closed for the summer due to low reservation levels brought on by the Depression. Elsie’s father encourages her to apply for a transfer to the Canyon Hotel, the largest on-Park accommodation establishment, which is also two hours away. He’ll take care of her mother, and Elsie will get the chance to keeps saving for college and will also be able to teach new recruits to the Civilian Conservation Corps camp being built nearby.
The Depression has hit Nate Webber and his large family hard. Ever since the death of his oldest brother in the line of duty, his baby brother Charlie has turned criminal, his abusive ex-cop father has fallen face-first into the bottle and their mother has become agoraphobic. Nate himself, pegged as developmentally disabled by the system, left school at the tender age of ten to help support the family. When Nate catches Charlie fencing jewelry, he takes the blame – it’s the only way to keep his brother out of reform school. But instead of putting Nate into prison, the Police Commissioner pushes him into joining the Civilian Conservation Corps which provides Nate with a job and the educational opportunities previously denied him.
Mary, Nate, Rose and Elsie meet up in Montana, where the camp is built and friendships are made. Elsie settles in to teach the CCC boys while working as a maid, and Nate resists her attempts at basic lessons while excelling at his park ranger training, including taking care of a mischievous raccoon kit. Mary soon develops a crush on Red, one of Nate’s friends, and becomes the subject of a quadrangle between Red, Hal – her current boyfriend – and Mutt, another CCC member. Elsewhere, Elsie and Nate begin developing a friendship that turns into love, while Elsie juggles the attentions of Nate with those of Teddy, a park ranger she’s always had a crush on. And Rose becomes attracted to Graham, Elsie’s cousin, with whom she has a complicated relationship. Both Nate and Elsie are concealing secrets that might stop his advancement up the ladder at school and the progress of Elsie’s relationship with both Nate and Teddy, respectively. When an arsonist begins lighting fires around the camp, danger is thrown into the mix, and not all of our heroes may come out alive.
Ever Faithful reads like a cheerful 1950s-era magazine story – and I mean that as a compliment. There’s a fun, cute, ‘golly-gee’ tone to the proceedings, and the story is tender, nicely thought-out, prettily written about, and a good exploration of both Christian faith and personal growth. The novel’s Christian characters walk the walk of folks who use their faith in a positive, self-improving way, and its storyline develops its characters in nicely believable ways.
Elsie believes it’s God’s plan for her to teach, and watching her grow into that plan from a sheltered childhood is enthralling. She is firm on her determination to follow her dreams, and won’t let concerns as to what she should do divert her from her path.
Nate, too, must grow beyond what his father has told him about his intelligence in order to embrace his talents and skills. His growing story is my favorite in the whole novel.
The rest of the book is dotted with solid supporting characters. My favorite was Val, who’s concealing his Jewish heritage for fear of receiving racist abuse and becomes Nate’s best friend. The rigors of depression and self-hatred are also examined thoroughly.
The book does have one flaw – I had to take a half-grade off for a little bit of showing, not telling in the prose. You shouldn’t have to tell me your characters are bubbly like geysers – show me! Also there’s a LOT of plot going on in this book as you can tell from my description, though the author generally balances it well.
But other than that Ever Faithful is a really sweet book that teaches the reader that to be true to God is to be true to oneself and their fellow man. What more can you ask from an inspirational romance?