CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 14. . . . March 14, 2003
Roses for Mama, A Gown of Spanish Lace and Heart of the Wilderness are all titles in Janette Oke's popular "Women of the West" series. They have been adapted by Natasha Sperling and repackaged in a new "Classics for Girls" series. Oke is often called the grandmother of Christian fiction, and all three titles have direct religious messages and themes.
In Roses for Mama, 17-year-old Angela Peterson takes on the responsibility of caring for her younger brother and sisters after the death of their parents. The hardships of pioneer life are explored as she struggles to provide them with food and clothing. She relies on her faith and the memory of her mother to guide her. To help her siblings deal with their grief, Angela creates a Memory Book. There are some emotional passages where each of the family members shares a recollection of their parents.
Angela is courted by the wealthy Carter Stratton and is hopeful she will now have someone to help care for the family. Angela tries to ignore the fact that Carter doesn't share her same standards or faith. When Carter tries to cheat her longtime friend out of his rightful inheritance, she "longed to discuss the situation with Carter, but didn't feel the freedom to bring up such a sensitive issue." Angela finds out, almost too late, that Carter has no intentions of raising her young brother and sisters. She eventually speaks her mind and calls off their wedding. The novel ends happily, with Angela marrying the responsible, hardworking Thane Andrews instead.
A Gown of Spanish Lace features Ariana Benson, a 16-year-old schoolteacher who is suddenly kidnapped by a band of outlaws. Even though she is imprisoned in a cabin, with only her Bible for comfort, she never loses her decorum or politeness. Laramie, the son of the head outlaw, is given the job of guarding her, and in the course of this far-fetched tale, he falls in love with her and decides to help her escape. With Ariana's help, Laramie renounces his evil upbringing, converts to Christianity, and they plan to marry. In an odd plot twist, they fear they might be brother and sister, but the problem is quickly resolved and they wed at the end.
The heavy handed use of dialect, such as "Jest a yella-bellied coward," was very distracting. Many questions were left unaswered, such as why did Ariana fall in love with her captor. There was little character development, and readers never get a glimpse into Ariana's inner thoughts. She was a very compliant hostage who never complained, even chastising herself for worrying about her situation, instead of "thanking God for each day of safety."
In Heart of the Wilderness, Kendra Marty is orphaned at a young age and goes to live with her trapper grandfather. Papa Mac and his native friend, Nonie, teach Kendra how to survive in the wilderness, and she grows up to be self-reliant and strong. She is content to live in the woods until she turns fourteen. Yearning to understand more about the world, she attends university in Edmonton. There, she befriends Amy, who introduces her to the Bible and, she learns how to become "civilized." She returns home to share the teachings with her grandfather and Nonie. In the last two chapters, Kendra quickly falls in love with Amy's brother, and the novel ends, like the others, with a wedding.
In all three novels the female characters are unbelievably wholesome - Angela is even described as being "the most sincerely selfless little creature." There is little humor to be found in these stories. The plots are predictable, and conflicts are resolved quickly and neatly at the end. Passages from the Bible fill the character's prayers and are printed in italics. The tone is very earnest and didactic.
While these are not literary novels, they do accomplish what the author intended - to provide a "gentle read" with biblical instruction.
Recommended with reservations.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.
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