At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

I received an advance copy of this to review in a Goodreads Giveaway. I’m so glad I got this book! It was so engaging and I read a majority of it in one sitting. Tracy Chevalier has a talent for writing historical characters. I especially appreciated her depiction of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

Before I say anything else, a synopsis from Amazon:

orchardWhat happens when you can’t run any further from your past?

Ohio, 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough have settled in the Black Swamp, planting apple trees to claim the land as their own. Life is harsh in the swamp, and as fever picks off their children, husband and wife take solace in separate comforts. James patiently grows his sweet-tasting ‘eaters’ while Sadie gets drunk on applejack made fresh from ‘spitters’. Their fighting takes its toll on all of the Goodenoughs – a battle that will resonate over the years and across America.

Fifteen years later their youngest son, Robert, is drifting through Gold Rush California and haunted by the broken family he fled years earlier. Memories stick to him where mud once did. When he finds steady work for a plant collector, peace seems finally to be within reach. But the past is never really past, and one day Robert is forced to confront the brutal reason he left behind everything he loved.

In this rich, powerful story, Tracy Chevalier is at her imaginative best, bringing to life the urge to wrestle with our roots, however deep and tangled they may be.

Like her previous books, Tracy Chevalier incorporates historical characters with fictional ones. John Chapman intermingles with the Goodenough family, encouraging Sadie to stay drunk on applejack, and later, William Lobb recruits Robert Goodenough to help him ship Giant Sequoia seeds to the U. K.

I really enjoyed this book. The only other Tracy Chevalier book I’ve read is Girl with the Pearl Earring, and I really enjoyed that, too, however, I don’t feel that it qualifies me to compare the quality of this book to her other works.

The narrative is told in an intriguing manner: Third person is from the point of view of James, and first person is told from the point of view of Sadie. Later, third person is told from the point of view of Robert. The first person perspective really allows you to get inside the head of Sadie, a thoroughly despicable character, and understand her actions a little better.

I especially enjoyed the contrast between the past narrative and the future narrative: trees may be the death of one family, but allow the birth of another. It’s beautifully composed and I was so engrossed in the book I finished it in an afternoon.

I am so glad this book was sent to me because it has helped me discover William Lobb, the man who brought the big trees to the U. K.! I don’t live very far from Kew and it’s overwhelming to know that the specimens from California housed there may very well be the ones sent from California over 150 years ago! I am also determined to see the Giant Sequoia grove on the edge of Wales now, too!

On the Edge of the Orchard is scheduled to be released 8 March 2016.

Tracy Chevalier’s website can be viewed here.

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