4 out of 4 stars
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THREADS: A Depression Era Tale by Charlotte Whitney is set in rural Michigan during the Great Depression. Told from the point of view of three sisters growing up on a farm, the novel paints a stark picture of the struggle to keep a family and community afloat in the 1930s. Seven-year-old Nellie’s discovery of a dead baby in a shallow grave near her family’s property sparks a series of events that impact her family and lays the foundation for the novel. Irene, eleven, and Flora, seventeen, join their younger sister to surreptitiously sleuth out the mother of the baby, contrary to their parents’ wishes. When rumors start to spread throughout their small community, Flora finds that she has the most to lose if they don’t figure out who the baby belonged to.
Spanning just under a year, THREADS provides the reader with an interesting cast of characters seen through the eyes of each girl. There are exuberant ministers, traveling gypsies, and occasional vagabonds stopping by the farm for charity bean sandwiches. Each girl regards situations differently and they often offer contrasting accounts of the same events. An epilogue that takes place in 1974 provides a welcomed final chapter to the lives of the interesting women the reader comes to care deeply about.
Charlotte Whitney’s creative approach to telling the story from three different viewpoints was an ambitious gamble that paid off in spades. I loved how each sister was able to share her unique take on events and how each voice was commensurate with the narrator’s level of maturity. The representation of the starkness of life during the Great Depression was eye-opening; many modern readers have very little experience with the level of poverty and hunger that is pervasive throughout the novel. Whitney also manages to weave in scenes of joy and celebration despite the hardships that surround her characters. Her use of young Nellie often helps to alleviate some of the bone-crushing sorrow that was ever-present in that era.
The novel begins with a warning about the use of mid-Michigan farm dialect throughout the book. This is most prevalent with Nellie and might pose a bit of a stumbling block for non-native English speakers. As someone who grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, I easily fell back into the vernacular of my youth. The use of language, references to current events, and descriptions of foods common to the era of making do with less come together to create a wonderful novel that is a snapshot of history.
THREADS is entertaining as well as educative, and I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction and coming of age stories. The rich characters and excellent storytelling will transport any reader to 1934 rural Michigan. This professionally produced book earns all 4 out of 4 stars, as I loved every minute I spent with the sisters.
THREADS A Depression Era Tale
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