Switching back to the Alphabet Variation Challenge:
For this reading prompt, I picked up a book that had been in my TBR pile for a decade: Marie Bostwick’s River’s Edge, published in 2006.
This story stretches from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1940’s. It begins in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Elise Braun is 8 years old in 1933. Born to a upper middle class German couple, her father is a military officer from a long line of illustrious military men. Her mother runs their home but is beginning to suffer the symptoms of TB. Elise’s upbringing is loving but very orderly and strict, especially in terms of being a proper young lady. The activity she enjoys the most is playing classical piano for her mother, somehow hoping that it will help improve her mother’s health. Unfortunately, Elise’s mother is eventually sent to a sanitarium and dies and her father, called upon to take up his duties in the German military and fearful for what Hitler is embarking on, decides to ask his wife’s distant relatives in Connecticut to take Elise in until sanity returns to his homeland. Therefore, at 13 or 14, Elise is sent to live with the Muller family in Brightfield, Connecticut, a rural area that grows tobacco. The Muller’s are not farmers, however. Carl Muller is the beloved pastor at the local church. His warm and rambunctious family includes his wife, Sophia, and five children, including a daughter Elise’s age. The Mullers are very welcoming to Elise, but it doesn’t take long for her more quiet, proper mannerisms to put her in conflict with the older Muller children. She also faces some taunting at school and, before long, the growing war in Europe puts her at odds with people in town who are looking for a scapegoat. Still, over the years, Elise learns new ways, new skills, and eventually makes lifelong friends who guide her into womanhood.
I think the reason it took me so long to pick up this book is that I thought it would be too heavily Christian in content. I don’t mind romantic inspirationals that aren’t too focused on religion, but if the religion is front and center, that puts me off. That being said, this book is an exception. The heroine is not a believer, but she moves in with a family whose father is a preacher. However, Carl and his wife’s beliefs are not shoved down the other characters’ or the reader’s throats. They demonstrate their beliefs by being good, loving people. Their care for Elise is not heavy-handed, and their children certainly spend most of their time doing fun, secular things and have very everyday concerns. In a sense, Elise’s life in Germany was much more restrictive and regimented than it is with the Mullers. The beauty of this book is in watching Elise grow into a capable, loving, open woman who learns hard lessons, withstands prejudice, and falls in love, while all the world is falling down around her. Since the story is set during WWII, there are definitely some tough developments, but the ending is uplifting. I think the only problem I had with the story initially was that Elise was open so early to calling the Muller couple Papa and Mama, but I figured that that title didn’t replace her feelings for her parents since she always called them Father and Mother. I also thought the ending was tied up a little too quickly and nicely. As the family began to suffer losses, most of their suffering was done off page or was wrapped up a bit fast. I expected there to be more issues involving the things that happened to Sophia, Junior, and Elise’s father. On the upside, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book in spite of it being heavier on exposition than dialogue. That being said, this entire story was told through Elise’s eyes and her experiences, so it made sense. All in all, I really enjoyed the story and was moved by it. I’d give it an A and would certainly read more by this author. I just wish I hadn’t taken so long to start.
The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 15 down, 4 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, O, R, S …)
The Phonics Challenge – 8 down, 11 to go