REVIEW: Ever Faithful by Karen Barnett
Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.
A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well.
Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?
Dear Ms. Barnett,
Inspirational historical romances have some unusual settings that I just don’t see in standard romance books. Case in point is this series set in the early 20th century at three US National Parks – one of the best things we as a nation have done. Although this is the last book, I didn’t feel that I was lost as the recurring thread in the books is the settings rather than the characters.
Here we’ve got a fish out of water discovering himself at Yellowstone National Park while working in the CCC. Nate has never been outside of New York City but he’s voluntold to sign up for the CCC as a way to earn money in 1933 America where so many are out of work. Hiding his secret which has shamed him since he was tossed out of school at age ten, he’s sent across country looking to work hard for his $25 a month – most of which will be sent to his family. Can he finally prove himself as a man and be more than the failure everyone has pegged him to be?
Meanwhile Elsie Brookes has lived at Yellowstone for almost a decade after her family moved west following a tragedy in which her younger sister died. Her dream has always been to teach and after this summer, she’ll almost have enough to follow her friends to college. Then her father breaks the news that there might be more money for her if she volunteers to teach some of the young men being sent to the camp as part of the government program. Elsie would love the chance to finally get enough for her tuition but the thought of teaching young men instead of young children shakes her confidence. Then she meets one promising man at the same time another man begins to take an interest in her. Suddenly a woman who has never thought a husband and family were in her future will have to choose between that and the future she’s always thought she’d have.
I can see that you had to pick and choose what parts of Yellowstone to include in the book. It became its own character in the story and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular tourist destination. What was included made the time period come alive and remained pertinent to the plot without overwhelming it with too much extraneous detail. I liked how it was all worked into the story and we see it from both the “savages” who work there and know it well and also from the newcomers who’ve only seen bears and bison in wild west movies but who become willing to do the backbreaking work needed to keep it beautiful and fight the fires.
Like other reviewers, I thought I’d figured out who the arsonist was. Then I refigured out who it was. Then I admitted that I wasn’t sure and just waited for the revelation. It does makes sense and the clues are there. I like it when a story keeps me guessing but one which also doesn’t pull the villain out of thin air.
I also came to enjoy the secondary characters who weren’t what I expected when they were first introduced. Mary and Red are fun and serve nicely as foils for the more serious Nate and Elsie. I can also see how Mary and Elsie have been friends for so many years as they act this way. There is some tension between all the different CCC men most of whom have never met before arriving there. The addition of the layers of immigrant backgrounds and religions was also a nice touch and made these characters come alive.
Elsie and Nate are two slightly older (early to mid 20s) characters (for the period) who have both suffered losses and setbacks. Elsie has had to work hard to save her money while still watching her friends go off to college each fall. Now she doesn’t want to put off her dream any longer. She’s never dated and it’s understandable that she’s confused about her feelings. Nate has never thought he’d amount to much – and that’s certainly what his father and teachers have pounded into his head. He falls for Else but truly feels he has nothing to offer her.
I enjoyed watching their friendship form and as Elsie helped Nate unlock the issues that had kept him back. I have no knowledge about teaching methods of the day to tackle his issues but what she comes up with makes sense. Having Nate put her feelings and aspirations first helps Elsie realize just why the other man won’t be the one in her life. The romance was, however, a little quick. One minute they’re “just going to be friends” and suddenly it’s game on – so to speak.
Though this is an inspirational romance, I felt that no one was being preached at or to – neither the characters nor I as the reader. These are people who are religious but no one is out to convert anyone. Instead, the degree of faith feels natural and the inclusion never feels forced.
Thanks for including some information on the historical details including the fact that the term used for the park workers (outside of the rangers) is “savages” and that this might be offensive for some though this wasn’t your intention. I haven’t read the first two books but after finishing this one, I will be seeking them out. B
This sounds charming, and I have to admit to a fondness for books dealing with literacy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jayne.