I love a really good book, one that hooks you right from the beginning and you never want to put it down. One of the things that frustrates me the most is trying to find a good book. It is hard for me to go into a bookstore and lay out $15 to $20 for a book when I know I can buy one at a thriftstore for 50 cents or even a dollar for a hardback! But finding a good used book is a little bit more of a challenge. You can't really pick your choice by author. You have to take a gamble by reading the description on the jacket...sometimes you win...sometimes you don't...and sometimes you don't even realize just how close you came to missing something really special. That is the case with the book that I just finished reading: "A Northern Light" by Jennifer Donnelly.
I like to read books that take place in a different time period or country. Escapism at it's finest. That was what drew me to pick up this book. It takes place in the year 1906 in the north country of the Adironacks. I almost didn't read it. I got it home and upon further inspection saw that it was a book for "young adults". Well, if there is anything I am not it is a young adult. But one night I was not in the mood for television and was desperate for something to read, so I began to read it. Which brings me to the point of this post.
The story is centered around the drowning of a young girl at a summer retreat for the wealthy. But that was not what sparked an awakening of questions in my mind, rather the life situation of the main character. She is a sixteen year old girl and life for her is hard. Her mother is dead, her father works their farm, her oldest brother has run off, she has three younger siblings that she is responsible for raising and she is trying to get her diploma from school so that she can go to college to become a writer. This is in a time when women do not have a whole lot of choices and going to college is definitely not at the top of the list. It is expected that she will marry by the age of seventeen and become a farmer's wife, raise a farmer's children and live a life a marital servitude everafter.
This story made me think a lot about how it was for my own mother at the age of sixteen in 1944. She, like the main character, lived in a rural setting, the Ozark mountains of southern Missouri. There were 8 children in her family. They were not well off and life was hard. My grandpa took whatever jobs he could to feed all of those mouths, logging, driving a schoolbus, going to Kansas to work and taking my mom along with him to cook and clean for their room and board. And it seems as if my grandma spent most of her life pregnant and taking care of the kids while he was working. Most of the time they lived in a two bedroom house heated by wood and with no indoor plumbing. Life was not easy. I have heard stories of getting fruit in their stockings for Christmas or the occasional piece of candy...and they were thrilled to get it. There were several parallels to my mom's childhood in the book. One of them was when the entire family was sick and she had to take care of them that reminded me of a story my mom told about several of her siblings getting the chicken pox and them having to sleep on cots outside. Also, in the book, it was rare that anyone received schooling past the sixth grade. My mom and her brothers and sisters went to school but none were able to go on to college. The boys went into the army and the girls got married. There was no money for college.
Before I go any further I just want to state that I have the best most loving mother in the world and I am very glad that she chose to marry my dad and have three children.
But reading this book brought up questions...In the book, the men when they were courting, never told the girl that they loved her, even when he asked her to marry him. The main character's mother said that she "just knew" by the way he acted when he was around her and that she, herself would "just know". We place so much importance on saying the words "I love you" that you wouldn't even dream of marrying someone that didn't say them. When my dad proposed did he say the words or did they "just know"? Did my mom ever have dreams to do something besides the path that she took? I have never asked her that...but I think I know the answer she would give. She has always been there for her family. She would send us off to school in the morning and be there when we got home. She would always have supper on the table when my dad got home from work. I have never heard her complain about the life she has. I believe she would say that she chose the life she wanted.