Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancé, seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. There she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.
Although Amelia's fire was enjoyable, I have to say, I was elated to find out The Springsweet was entirely about Zora. I adored Zora, and her ending was not one I wanted to leave her with, so it was entirely satisfying to find her in the very first pages, with no preambles.
Mrs. Stewart, sadly, wasn't in this one as much. However, she's in the beginning and continues on just as I expect, in the most satisfying combination of proper mom for the time period, and one who understands the confines of their society and is willing to work around them. In a word, she's delightful, and I'm relieved we get a bit more of her before Zora leaves for Oklahoma.
Growing up in the prairies, I read a great many stories about homesteaders both in Canada and the States. Wonderful books like The Doll, by Cora Taylor, filled my imagination with the struggles, the heat and the hardships of those plucky people. I'm not sure if it's my Saskatchewan roots, or something else that appeals to me about the whole thing, but I find I'm still drawn to these stories. The Springsweet is an excellent YA entry into the category. Mitchell describes the hardships, the community and the struggles but she balances them nicely by paying tribute to good moments too. I loved the Barn raising scene, it so beautifully showed how people came together, and it's a sense of group spirit that exists still today in the prairies. I've always thought of that feeling of community, as a defining characteristic of being a prairie person. I was charmed she caught, and expressed the feeling in so many ways.
Unlike The Vespertine, The Springsweet has a small love triangle. This one is about the proper gentleman versus the improper, and I liked how Mitchell rolled it out, how very un-prepared for Zora Theo is and how very capable of handling her Emerson is. Their play against each other shows so many of the strange rules of the time to good advantage, and it highlights so many of the limitations in place for people to do the "proper" thing. Of course Zora's modern notions expressed this well too.
Theo relaxed a bit, washed over with vindication. " I believe in chivalry." "oh, I don't," I replied. "A knight always gets to have his cake and eat it too, doesn't he? 'Hello, my lady, I love you- but I must run off to find the Holy Grail now. Wait for me!" Cross, Theo considered me from the corner of his eye. "That's not chivalry at all. And finding the Grail would be an honorable quest." "Says the man who would get to ride after it and savor all sorts of adventure in the search," I shrugged; I had hardly designed the way of the world. I was simply subject to it. "I assure you, there are absolutely no epic ways to make a sampler or roast a lamb shank." "So you're a suffragette," Theo declared. I stopped and turned to him. "What if I were?" And amazingly, Theo quailed. He honestly lost a shade of color from his handsome face, and his brows tented ever so slightly in horror, as if I had pulled open my coat to reveal a clockwork heart, or perhaps a second head growing just beneath my breast. It lasted just a minute, but the impression lingered, even as he recovered. "I don't see why women shouldn't have the vote." "That's very generous of you," I said..."But I don't believe we were talking about the vote."Like The Vespertine, The Springsweet is both a lovely character piece and a fascinating look at a time period and place in history. It was witty and engrossing, and although it doesn't have the mystery of The Vespertine I was completely swept away by the adventure of it. I will be awaiting the final part of this series, The Elementals, with baited breath.
The Springsweet, by Saundra Mitchell
Published by Harcourt Children's Books, April 17th 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
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