REVIEW: Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie
With her brothers away fighting the Great War overseas, Livy Campbell desperately wants to help her family. Her chance comes when she meets a handsome stranger who lands her a job as a teacher in a place far from her parents’ farm. But the war casts a long shadow over the German-American town that Livy now calls home-and the darkness will test everything she thought she knew about family and love . . .
More than anything, Friedrick Wagner wants to be part of his adopted country’s struggle for peace. But when the bitter animosity between Germans and Americans soon turns citizens against newcomers, friend against friend, he will do whatever it takes to protect Livy from the hysteria that grips their town. As tragedy-and dark secrets from the past-threaten their future, Friedrick and Livy have one chance to stand up for what’s right . . . and one chance to fight for their love.
Dear Ms. Henrie,
I’m always looking for unusual settings or plots and the description of this one promised both. Plus it utilizes an Americana backdrop that I haven’t seen used much in years.
Livy is a strong yet still uncertain heroine. She’s young – just turned twenty in the opening scene – and has only been away from her parent’s rural Iowa farm for one year of college before she was needed back after her two older brothers enlisted in the Army. Her beau came back from France wounded in body and soul and has now turned to drink. Livy, however, isn’t some martyr and when Robert doesn’t show for a local dance one evening, she takes up the offer to foxtrot with a handsome stranger then flirts a little. She also jumps at the chance of a teaching job Handsome Stranger tells her about.
It was wonderful to see how supportive Livy’s family is of her hopes and ambitions to strike out on her own, hold down a job and be productive. Livy’s a hard worker, patriotic and determined to do her best by her new pupils. What truly delights me about her is that she doesn’t happily skip down the road of martyrdom. When Robert goes over the line, she cuts bait and tells him so in no uncertain terms.
Friedrick is also patriotic though he’s had to already prove himself even before the local vigilante arrives one night demanding that the Wagners buy another war bond with what little ready cash they have left. Anti-German sentiments have swept through their small town and there is little more that American born Friedrick and the others can do to prove themselves loyal to their country. Friedrick is sick and tired of the comments and suspicion German American families are subjected to and himself in particular since he has a farm deferment from enlisting due to his father’s bad health.
When Livy and Friedrick meet again, their initial attraction yields to sparks of conflict that isn’t manufactured nor inflamed for the story. I could see the point of view of each of them. Livy has brothers in the line of fire in France and hasn’t been around any German Americans before this. She’s a little young and naïve but I thought that was to be expected given her background. But she is open to new experiences and willing to change her opinion based on what she sees and the people she meets. Friedrick jumps to a few conclusions about Livy before coming to the realization that she isn’t going to condemn him out of hand and is willing to accept his offer of a truce between them. I was glad to not see them holding grudges just for the sake of doing so.
I thought the story had good historical details in showing the life of rural Iowa farm towns and one room schools. It also taught me a great deal of history I didn’t know such as the banning of the use of all foreign languages in Iowa and how pervasive anti-German sentiments were. I was sorry to see the villains mainly portrayed as fairly stock characters who show up, threaten the good guys and then sink back into the wood work until needed again for more menace.
But what about the religious aspects? I can hear long time DA readers asking. Will I feel preached at or badgered about faith? Honestly, I don’t think so. I know I didn’t. Instead, faith is an integral part of Livy and Friedrick’s lives. Going to church is the accepted thing to do on Sunday and they turn to God in times of need and in thanks for prayers answered. I didn’t feel bashed over the head with religion but it is present throughout the story.
The main characters are well fleshed out and believable, the conflict is germane to the time and place and it’s nice to learn some new things along the way. If not for the by-the-rote villains, I think I would have enjoyed the story more but I’m still glad I read it. B
My grandmother’s first years in school coincided with the height of World War I. I knew, through family gossip, that her parents and older brothers had emigrated from Germany a little over a decade earlier. As an inquisitive child, I remember asking my grandmother on several occasions if she spoke German, did she have stories her parents had told her about Germany, and had she ever gone abroad and visited Germany. She dismissed my curiosity each time with a resounding “no!” I once made the mistake of asking her what it was like during “the war,” meaning World War II. She shook her head, and said “Oh, that Kaiser,” and then waved me off with such icy disdain, that I didn’t have the courage to correct her assumption and I sure as heck never ventured near that particular subject again.
What I didn’t realize, until after her death, was that my grandmother never spoke a word of English until she started school. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her, giving the timing of her first years in public school. I also didn’t know that her parents had never become naturalized citizens and were required to register as Enemy Aliens during both World Wars. I didn’t know that most of her family had remained in Germany and she had uncles who fought in the German Army during World War I, and that she would have cousins fighting (and dying) in various branches of the German military during World War II. (Her own brothers enlisted in differing branches of the US military during that same time.)
You can imagine, then, how interesting the subject matter of this book would be to me. Thanks, Jayne, for spotlighting it!
@TerryS: I can understand why it would have been painful for her to revisit these memories or dredge up the family’s struggles. If the examples in this book are anything to go by she must have had a rough row to hoe early on in her life.
I think it was not uncommon in parts of the upper midwest (think Wisconsin) for towns to be populated by German-Americans and for most of the activities of daily life to be conducted in German. The two world wars put an end to that, as did the 20th C inventions that reduced rural isolation (cars, TV, and such).
Also wanted to comment on the fact that inspirational romances often have the most beautiful covers, far prettier than many other romances. Not sure why that is, although because they don’t go in for the historically inaccurate shirt open to the waist (hero) or dress falling off her shoulder (heroine) they automatically get points from me.
@Susan/DC: I love this cover and it actually reflects the book as, more than once, Friedrick thinks how pretty Livy looks with her hair up like this.
The book starts soon after the governor of Iowa signed a bill outlawing the use of foreign languages in the state and shows the struggle some immigrants were having in obeying it though they were all trying.
Not an Inspy person, but may have to pick this up. I’m another one with a German-American grandmother who was born on an Iowa farm and came of age during WWI. (And became a school teacher!) I remember her talking about the animosity directed toward her family during the war. It’s one of the reasons they packed up and moved to Florida to homestead.
Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery (in the Anne of Green Gables series) was my introduction to the Great War. Growing up, I felt like I learned so much about WWII in school, but WWI was mostly glossed over.
You really make me want to read this, Jayne! *shakes fist at TBR*
Immigrants from Germany were the second or third largest group for many years, certainly until WW1. And they were very good at retaining their native language as their mother tongue for two or three generations. There are German communities all over the midwestern and plains states, some dating back to the 18thC but many in the 19thC as well.
WW1 was especially difficult for Germans in the US, and you’ll find that quite a few families with German names Anglicized them (Schneider to Snyder, for example).
There is an interesting movie about this situation called Sweet Land. Definitely worth checking out It’s tough to think about this kind of judgment made towards people, be it the Germans in WWI or the Japanese in WWII.
I really like WWI period stories. There’s actually a zombie WWI book I read recently that I really liked. No romance at all. It was zombie steampunk. I think it was called The Great Undead War.
Favourite show: Downton Abbey (obviously)
Favourite book: Remembrance by Teresa Breslin
@ML: Oh that’s such a charming little movie. I had thought about featuring it as a Friday Film Review but never got around to it.
A second vote for Sweet Land. What a great little movie. I also like A Very Long Engagement.
My grandmother was born in Chicago, grew up speaking German, and didn’t learn English until she started school. Her parents were ethnic Croatians from Austria, but as German speakers (also Croatian and Hungarian speakers) they were lumped in with ethnic Germans and suffered some discrimination during WWI and WWII. I believe my great aunt anglicized her name to get a job in the 40s.
This sounds like an interesting book – thanks for the review.
Thanks for reading and reviewing the book, Jayne!
I also love Sweet Land – what a great movie! Enjoyed reading all of your comments, especially about your family experiences during WWI. My husband’s family comes from Germany (on both sides) and people stopped frequenting their shop during the Great War because of it.
This sounds really good, Jayne. One of my favorites from WWII is Carrie Lofty’s His Very Own Girl.
I haven’t read much about WWI since I finished my history degree a few years ago, but this looks really intriguing. Thanks for the review. I always find interesting books through your reviews!
I’m also a Downton Abbey fan, as someone else commented. Off the top of my head I’m having trouble…most of what I’ve been reading historical fiction seem to be WWll lately.