Where Courage Calls
Back in my middle school and high school years Janette Oke was one of my favorite authors. Her books about the Canadian West contained fabulous characters, sweet romances and a subtle message of the Christian faith that transcended denominations and went straight to the heart. When I heard she was expanding her Mounties series (When Calls the Heart) I was beyond excited. This book is the first of the new books in that storyline, although you don’t have to have read the others to enjoy this one.
Beth Thatcher is only mildly enjoying the lavish party her mother has thrown to wish her good luck and farewell as she heads off to a teaching position in a rugged mining community in western Canada. Quiet Beth had wanted a family gathering to see her off but her affluent family – her mother especially- preferred a celebration that reflected their social status and included their social circle. When Beth is finally able to steal away from the festivities she spends some quiet time with her young nephew and shares a room with her younger sister, knowing the two will greatly miss each other as she spends the next year following her heart into an exciting new career.
Her long train ride proves memorable as she encounters an old – and not particularly beloved – family friend and experiences some new adventures. One of those adventures turns out to be very unwelcome indeed – a man posing as a porter at the train station makes off with all of Beth’s luggage. While her clothing and toiletries are a real loss it is the theft of her violin and a precious trinket from her father that leave Beth heartsick. The generosity of the people in her new community who loan her clothing and try to replace the things that are missing serves as a balm to her heart and assure her she has made the right decision to leave friends and family behind to teach her new young charges.
Beth’s first days as a teacher offer many surprises. Her schoolroom is a tavern turned pool hall. The children have had little education. The boarding house she is in houses mining company executives and she struggles to be at ease with some of the men. Church is not held on a weekly basis, a fact she feels is a real blow to the community.
But for every cloud there is a silver lining. Her mother sends supplies that help turn their converted pool room into a real classroom. What the children lack in polish they make up for with determination and enthusiasm. The mining company men prove to be handy friends. And if the church is not weekly the time she gets to spend with Phillip, the pastor, and Jarrick, his friend and a local Canadian Mounty, after the service more than makes up for it. As Beth becomes a part of the community and they a part of her she wonders how she will ever be able to leave at the end of the year.
One of the greatest strengths Oke has as a writer (and which shows in this book co-authored by Laurel Oke Logan) is her ability to make the frontier come alive. She takes us beyond saloons and gun fights (which were never as prevalent as Hollywood would have us think) and introduces us to the people who turned vast empty acres into thriving communities. We come to know how little many of the people have, how difficult life can be as a widow and the fellowship and camaraderie that accompany working on such a large undertaking together.
Beth serves as an excellent entree into the community of Coal Valley. Wealthy Beth, with her access to far more modern conveniences than they have in the small frontier town, has to adjust to a completely different life style. She also has to learn an entirely new skill set – she had never even washed dishes before. It is her enthusiasm for learning and her complete devotion to the people that set the tone for our tale. Beth knows it would be easy to –and that in fact most of the people in her social circle would – look down on the humble folk around her. Yet here she finds wisdom beyond much of what she had learned at home, faith that moves mountains and a sense of community she has seen nowhere else.
Beth also finds herself in Coal Valley. At home she is the sickly, delicate daughter. Here they don’t coddle her and she turns into a force to be reckoned with. Beth sees with fresh eyes the needs of the community and quickly brings all her skills to bear to set about fixing them. With the help of her friends Molly and Frank she is able to learn how to do this in such a way as to make the community welcoming rather than resentful for what she provides.
Because this is an Inspirational book faith is woven throughout the context. Here it is ladled on with a rather heavy hand, giving the book a strong Christian flavor. I felt it really worked both because the faith aspect fit well into the setting of time and place and because the author made her characters share their religion without ever crossing into the territory of preaching sermons.
If there was a fault in the book it is the rather abrupt and what felt to me like a rather incomplete ending. It is clear that this is the first in a series and that we will undoubtedly have a great deal many more adventures to take with Beth. I would still like to have seen the book to end by giving us more of a hint as to what those adventures would be and whom she would be sharing them with.
That quibble aside this is an excellent Inspirational novel. Fans of that genre will love joining gentle Beth on her adventures. Fans of Ms. Oke will find her usual excellent writing and terrific characters in this book, now co-authored with her daughter. I am happy to be able to recommend it.