Rosebloom by Christine Keleny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the blurb:
Rose, a precocious young girl in 1930's Wisconsin, runs away from home to avoid going on to high school and what she sees as a certain path to marriage and motherhood. What she seeks is adventure. What she finds is much more.
Rose takes a job on the River boat "Capital," and is thrown in to the lives of the varied people and towns of the Mississippi, from Prairie du Chien to New Orleans.
"Rosebloom" takes place in a time in history that buffets Rose between the great depression and the coming wave of WWII. She gets herself into situations that test her reslove and teach her not only about herself but about the world of others, which she would have never known if she hadn't left her small farm in Southwest Wisconsin.
Rosebloom tells the story of Rose Krantz, a 16 yo girl growing up in southwest Wisconsin during the Depression. Knowing that her family is overburdened, she decides to run away from home to seek adventure. Upon signing up to work on a river boat, she begins to realize that the world she knows and the 'real' world are two different things.
The author skillfully weaves historical facts into her book, and it's easy to tell that a lot of research was done prior to writing this novel. I also found that Ms. Keleny took on some rather difficult subjects, such as racial tensions and prostitution, and handled them very realistically and very responsibly, yet managed to capture the voice of a young, naive girl whose optimism and genuine friendliness sets her apart from the people of her time.
Rose doesn't see color - she just separates people into nice and bad. This allows her to form a strong friendship with Lilli Mae, a colored girl whose room she shares on the river boat and who works with her. It allows her to view Grandma B. as family, and be invited into the matriarch's home. It could be argued that her lack of understanding in regards to segregation is a tad unbelievable, but I chose to overlook that aspect, and decided that her sheltered upbringing on her family's farm was the cause of that.
Upon her arrival in New Orleans, Rose is separated from Lilli Mae at the docks, and makes the acquaintance of a Madam running a brothel. Madam E. takes the young girl under her wings and offers her a job keeping the books as well as sending her to school, plus room and board, in exchange for those services.
It is there that Rose meets Malcolm, a young, Cajun man who is a jack of all trades. They fall in like and begin a courtship, one that I'm told is continued in the sequel.
Rose's voice was mostly believable. The story is told primarily from her POV though we also get glimpses at the other characters' inner thoughts. She's usually optimistic and cheerful, even in dire circumstances, choosing to see the glass as half full and exhibiting a canny ability to find good even in bad situations. The narration is almost always so cheerful that I found myself smiling along with the character.
The writing is rich and very detailed, and I found myself completely immersed in the vivid descriptions of the country side, the boat and the towns, so much so that it felt as if I was right there with the characters.
The primary focus of the story is not romance, but the adventures of a young girl in the mid-30s, coming into her own. Very nicely done.
I received a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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