In this YA novel, a debutante from California decides to escape her smug suitor and test her mettle as a teacher in a frontier logging town.
Beatrice Blake, 17, is leaving Oakland and heading to Snohomish, Washington. As it happens, her two Blake uncles have prospered there, and her brother, Stewart, the black sheep of the family, has joined them and invited Beatrice to the town. She will work there through the winter and spring, having promised to return to marry her arrogant suitor. Her mother is a toxic snob and overprotective, but Beatrice takes her stand, and her father, his own dreams faded, backs her up. To say that Snohomish is not as idyllic as Beatrice had envisioned would be a gross understatement. Although there are good people there, many are both suspicious and superstitious. Beatrice, on the other hand, has been badly infected with her mother’s prejudices so, for example, it takes her forever and much pain to accept the fact that Twasla, a half Native American, is not her social inferior. Beatrice then is fighting on two fronts: the insularity of Snohomish and her own deep biases. Wood (Langley, 2012, etc.) stirs the pot nicely, and for every step forward, Beatrice takes two steps back. The worst troubles occur when the smallpox plague strikes and kids die. Somehow Beatrice is blamed and branded a witch. For a time, it looks as if her life is in danger, but she refuses to scoot back to Oakland as Stewart urges. A few of the plot strands are a bit too pat (Stewart and Twasla become engaged). But while this is Wood’s debut novel, she is an experienced writer—with many nonfiction books under her belt—and it shows. Her tale should appeal to both the YA audience and older readers. The author has a deft hand with characters, especially Twasla and George Hess, who may turn out to be Beatrice’s great love. Readers should cheer as, after many difficult trials, the heroine finds the path to her true self. Along the way, she must determine whether she will stay in Snohomish and become the inspired teacher that she hoped she could one day be.
An excellent Western tale with a winning heroine.