Waiting for Summer's Return
I rarely read Western or Americana romances. For whatever reason, the era doesn’t appeal to me. But rifling through a box of books, I came across Waiting for Summer’s Return. By description it sounded a bit like Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke, a classic in the Inspirational Romance genre. So I thought, why not? Unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to the book it reminded me of, but it wasn’t a bad way to spend the time. Enclosed in a cliché premise are some nice tender moments and a bit of romance.
Boston-born-and-bred Summer Steadman is on her way to Oklahoma to homestead with her husband and children, when her family sickens with typhoid in a small Kansas town. One by one her loved ones die on her until she is left alone in the isolated Mennonite community. She wishes she would die too – there seems nothing left in the world for her and she has no idea what she will do to support herself now.
Peter Ollenberger has also lost a dear spouse – and suffered for his Mennonite faith. Persecuted in Germany and in Russia, his people came to America to worship freely and make a community for themselves. Because of their history, they are distrustful of outsiders. But Peter values education and wants his son, Thomas, to have every advantage. Thomas, unfortunately, has recently suffered a fall and is homebound. Peter proposes to hire Frau Steadman as a temporary tutor for Thomas until he gets back on his feet and can go to school again. He can’t afford to pay her, but he will give her room and board. To keep his religious community’s scruples satisfied, Summer can lodge in the small shack he has on the property. His grandmother-in-law will also serve as a chaperone. Peter feels empathy for Summer and her loss and wants to help her through her grief, but he has no suspicion that his platonic interest in her may someday subtly become love…
This is a story of grief and recovery, and it is generally well written. Peter is a noble sort, truly concerned for Summer’s best welfare. He never takes advantage of her vulnerable state or her eventual emotional attachment to his son. Instead, as things begin to change between them, he becomes more and more of a friend and advocate to her, willing to help her along even if it means the Ollenbergers will lose her. He turns to prayer regularly to help him navigate this fragile situation. This may sound dorky to some readers, but his faith is well drawn and admirable. The Mennonite angle is also an interesting one.
Unfortunately, the timetable for Summer’s recovery from her tragic loss is unbelievably short. The story begins in October, and by Christmas, Summer has pretty well put her demons behind her and embraced the joy offered to her in God’s love. While it is natural for a person in despair to turn to religion or community for help and support, it stretches believability for her to have moved on so soon after everyone she loves in the world has died. The beginning chapters are grimmer but more realistic reading.
Also, the story’s set up seems to have a few holes. Summer’s husband is from a wealthy and prominent family in Boston. The move to Oklahoma is precipitated by Summer, who doesn’t get on well with her in-laws and wants a fresh start in life. It is very hard to believe that a family of this standing would chuck it all aside to go West. The journey was hard and could be (and, indeed, did prove to be for the Steadmans) dangerous. The destination was hardly easy or idyllic, and none of them seem to have any experience with the kind of making-do necessary to live on the unsettled prairie. It would be easier to believe the family decided to move because of bankruptcy or family scandal – not just because.
Waiting for Summer’s Return is a low-key tale of death and re-birth experienced on the frontier. While it isn’t always completely believable, Vogel includes enough tender moments between Summer and her newly adopted Ollenbergers to satisfy readers who like religion mixed in with their romance.