Tuesday, October 10, 2006

book review - A Promise for Ellie

Title: A Promise for Ellie

Author: Lauraine Snelling

Publisher: Bethany House, 320 pages

Genre: Historical fiction, Romance

ISBN: 0764228099

When Dad asks Andrew to postpone his and Ellie’s anticipated June wedding till after harvest, the lovers are set on a roller coaster ride. Highs of sweet togetherness and shared dreams are followed by plummets into lovers' misunderstandings and the challenges of circumstances, nature, and making a living from the land in Blessing, North Dakota in 1900. But A Promise for Ellie, the first book in Lauraine Snelling’s “Daughters of Blessing” series, is much more than just a light romance.

Setting plays a large par in this pioneer tale. The folks in this close-knit community do a lot of things together from raising barns to sharing views about local news at quilting bees, to, of course, going to church. Norwegian expressions (like “uff da” and “mange takk”) and forms of address (“Mor” for Mom and “Far” for Dad) give the story an authentic ethnic feel. Snelling, apparently renowned for her realistic portrayal of farming, judging from reviews of her other books, performs true to form. You can practically hear the zing of the milk hitting the empty pail, feel the prick of straw through your shirt, and taste that homemade rhubarb pie -- with coffee of course!

Snelling’s characters are another reason reading this book is great entertainment. Ellie Wold, the book’s female lead is a delightful young woman, idealistic, likeable and hardworking who matures noticeably during the five or so months that the story encompasses. Andrew Bjorklund, the book’s main male character is a sometimes contradictory young man who often doesn’t understand his own reactions, especially when he’s under pressure. Ingeborg Bjorklund, Andrew’s mother, is another complex and interesting point-of-view character. (Ingeborg is not a new character to Snelling fans however, judging from the author’s “Dedication” and several inferences in the story to past happenings. As someone who has never read a book by Snelling before, I can assure readers new to her that despite not meeting Ingeborg before, I found the book stood up just fine on its own.) Finally, the multiplicity of unexplored minor female characters in the cast leaves many possibilities for heroines in “Daughters of Blessing” books to come.

Faith in God and in one’s fellows, be they family members or the wider community, is a main theme in the story. Women’s issues, like Ellie’s fears of having a baby, the frank portrayal of Ingeborg’s nasty mid-life symptoms, and the community grappling with more than one pregnancy-gone-wrong, run through the book. Roles in marriage are also explored as Ellie seeks to discover what will be her identity in their dreamed-of union while Andrew struggles with wanting control. A defining incident near the book’s end also brings Andrew face to face with a deep-seated grudge, the need for a lifestyle of forgiveness, and his promise to Ellie – a segue to the title.

Snelling’s prose is, for the most part, low-noise -- a smooth-running vehicle for this story of the simple, strong people of Blessing. However, she does have lyrical capacity, as seen in vignettes with Andrew:

“With his forehead planted in the cow’s warm flank and the milk pinging into the bucket, he could let his mind roam. Cow milking time was always good thinking time. He’d daydreamed many a milking hour about the life he and Ellie would have once they were married.”

and Ellie:

“...she knelt by the window and crossed her arms on the sill. The moonlight silvered the maple leaves that whispered secrets in the breeze. Off in the distance a dog barked. Would she and Andrew have a dog to watch their place and the bring in the cows?”

Readers who enjoy novels about the Amish by Beverly Lewis will find similarities in this book.
For a wholesome love story set in a place and time sure to stir up feelings of nostalgia , A Promise for Ellie is a solid choice.


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