3 out of 4 stars
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The Grace Emancipation by Charlotte Hawkins is a book in the historical fiction genre. The author’s inspiration was Jane Eyre, and it is, in fact, the protagonist’s favorite book. Unlike Jane Eyre, though, this novel takes place in 1927.
Grace Langdon lives with her parents in Virginia Their biggest goal is to marry her off; then, she would be someone else's problem. Her desires are much more lofty. She wants independence; she wants more for herself than women at the time are supposed to want. Women are not meant to defy their parents. What will she do, then, when her aspirations are in direct conflict with her parents?
The first thing that struck me about this book was the historicity therein. It is clear that Ms. Hawkins has done her research about this time period. Several of the characters are based on historical figures. The technology is also on point. The refrigerator is just coming into widespread use, and cars have finally become affordable to the common man. These new technologies lead to one of my favorite scenes - Grace taking a bath for the first time. Just seeing the bathtub makes her wonder if she'll drown. The author's language is so picturesque that I was able to vividly imagine the scene. It brought a smile to my face.
As most books in this genre, this story is highly character driven. Grace starts out as an innocent rose who has seen her fair share of hardship. It was a pleasure to follow her transformation into a mature young lady. The secondary characters are just as realistic. Her brother tries to be forward thinking, but he doesn't always succeed. Alice, her brother's wife, is quick to point out his flaws which leads to some fun and feisty fights.
As in Jane Eyre, this novel is complete with its own Mr. Rochester. Henry can be a bit crotchety due to all that he has suffered in his life. Yet, the fun is in finding his redeeming qualities. The other pleasure is seeing if anyone else will see in him what the reader is allowed to see.
Romance is one of the main themes here. This is no purely physical liaison as found in so many books today, however. This is the difficult, heart wrenching, self-possessing partnership found in many gothic novels. It is sensual yet still suitable for younger audiences or those who do not like explicit content.
As for the pacing, it is a slow, leisurely journey leaving plenty of time for the author to develop relationships and settings. Make no mistake, though, that doesn't mean there aren't mysteries that keep the reader's interest. I found myself getting irritable when I was forced to set this book aside for a time to attend to those small necessities of life that tend to come up.
Sadly, there were a few errors that kept this book from being perfect. The most noteworthy was a message from the author in the middle of the book. This was obviously leftover from a point in time when Ms. Hawkins was posting chapters on a blog. However, it came up unexpectedly and the story continued just as quickly. There was nothing setting it apart from the rest of the story as it wasn't even at the end of a chapter. Luckily, this would be easy enough for the author to correct.
Overall, I give The Grace Emancipation a 3 out of 4 stars. I would love to give this a perfect score, but I can't, in good faith, with the errors mentioned above. Still, I highly recommend this novel for lovers of Brontë or Austen. The clean yet difficult romance found in the novels of that era marries perfectly with women's suffrage that was gaining momentum in the 20s.
The Grace Emancipation
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