Updated: Aug 20, 2020
A coming-of-age tale of hope in depression-era Kentucky
Lena’s a fifteen-year old girl who devours every book she can get her hands on. She spends as much time at the library as she can, yearning to escape her alcoholic mother. When Lena finds out about a new job delivering library books on horseback to the rural hillbillies, she eagerly applies and lands the job. Soon, she makes friends with an older couple living in the mountains who help the skeptical locals warm up to her so she can open their children’s eyes to the joy of reading. But trouble awaits for Lena back in Willow Hollow, when she finds out that her spendthrift mother has blown all of their money, and now their house is about to be foreclosed.
I loved how Amanda drew together a story about stories; it’s clear she’s a fan of classic literature, and so is her character Lena. North and South, Little Women, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, Robin Hood, Pride and Prejudice, and many other lovable and familiar titles are mentioned throughout. Her story is well-developed, the conflict between Lena and her mother driving the story, escalating with the discovery that they are about to be forced out of their home if something can’t be done to stop the foreclosure.
The characters: It’s Lena’s story, and it’s her coming-of-age. She goes from being a timid girl with no hope and no options, to a strong, confident woman with a future ahead of her and friends who support her. Her faith is central to her character; she leans upon the Word of God for strength, even despite her mother’s ridicule, and prays in her times of need. She learns some valuable lessons about unconditional love from watching her friend Homer care for his wife as dementia claims her. Making this her pattern, she begins to pray for her mother daily, despite seeing no changes from her mom.
Lena’s mom is the main antagonist in the story. She isn’t truly evil, but she’s been dealt a bad hand in life, and she does nothing to make the best of it. She made the mistake of getting pregnant out of wedlock when she was just Lena’s age, and because of this her parents disowned her. Nothing is mentioned of Lena’s father at any point. Mom has always resented Lena and seen her as a burden, a chain keeping her in Willow Hollow, another mouth to feed. She is careless and irresponsible. It is clear she would rather spend her money on booze and cosmetics than care for the child that she birthed. She can’t seem to hold down a job to save her life, just flits from one occupation to another to make ends meet. Mom can hardly wait for the time when Lena is old enough to support herself and she can finally be free.
The ending surprised me, but as I reflected on it, I realized it was actually a very logical conclusion to the conflict. I was pleased that Amanda included a touching epilogue to follow. If you like heartwarming faith-centered historical fiction, I recommend reading “A Strand of Hope” by Amanda Tero.