Jeanie Arthur and her family have lost almost everything. As recourse they head out to the prairie to make new lives for themselves where no one knows about the family scandal and they can remake their lives. No matter how far they go, there are still numerous tensions simmering underneath the service, tensions that remain throughout the eldest daughter Katherine’s life. Told through two different timelines, the story explores the difficulties of family, the secrets that parents keep to protect their children, and the power of that love above all other kinds.
It’s been a good long while since I read a book set on the prairie and I’d forgotten how difficult that life was. Like many girls, I was a huge fan of Little House on the Prairie and ever since then stories set on the prairie certainly have tons of appeal. Released right in time for Mother’s Day (and still perfect for next year), this is a celebration of family love and endurance against incredible setbacks. Jeanie is in many ways an inspiring character, difficult and stubborn but still human beyond all of that. For better or for worse, as she goes along in the book her experience teaches her certain things and she simply cannot just unlearn those, however much she’d want to.
Juxtaposed with Jeanie’s pure struggle to stay alive and keep her children happy and safe is older Katherine’s difficulty with her mother’s failing health and her mentally disabled sister. Both of them have come to live with her at the turn of the twentieth century and she has a hard time forgiving her mother for what happened on the prairie, which we don’t find out until the story progresses. It’s a neat way of keeping the tension going as I was certainly wondering what the final straw was, especially given how close and loving Katherine and Jeanie are at the start of the novel.
All of the characters endure their fair share of agony, and they don’t always react in the way that we’d like them to, but they’re all changed in ways that I found to be realistic. Not everyone bends with the pressure of life, some people break, and it’s unfortunate but true. Overall I found myself completely swept up in the story, and even though it’s not a short book I managed to read it over a few days (with much else going on at the time!).
Truly, though, the core of the book is a mother’s love, and how a mother will put her children above everything else, even if they’re not sure why she’s doing it. I’m not a mother myself, but I think it will speak to them very much. Jeanie has always loved her children, but it’s the harsh prairie that truly brings out her maternal nature and makes the entire book.
The Last Letter is the perfect read for mothers who love historical fiction, but it can be appreciated very well by the rest of us too. Recommended.
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