Young love springs up in a place where older hearts were bruised, in Bergstrom’s debut saga.
Raised motherless under the influence of a fundamentalist Baptist church in eastern Washington state, sisters Kate and Bethany Nolan grew up close, and when Kate needed help after a teenage love affair left her pregnant and alone, condemned from the pulpit and prostituting herself at a local truck stop, Bethany helped her and her baby, Emmy, leave for a new life in California. Now, 16 years later, Kate asks Emmy to return to Bethany, who is childless after many miscarriages, to take part in a healing ceremony to bless her latest pregnancy. Shy, relocated to relatives she never knew existed, Emmy finds herself in a rural community where she feels a sense of belonging and is befriended by Reuben, a Native American boy. Narrated, sometimes distractingly, from multiple perspectives, the novel considers several relationships—Bethany’s solid marriage, tested by her religious beliefs and yearning for children; Kate’s struggle to accept a permanent relationship; Emmy’s discovery of mutuality with Reuben. Bergstrom’s emphasis on sentiment and issues lends a downbeat note to the storytelling, which is intensified when tragedy strikes and only partly dissipates by the drawn-out but happy conclusion.
A carefully crafted family drama that dwells more on the difficult journey than the glad arrival.