Thursday, May 5, 2016

Broken Ground - Karen Halvorsen Schreck

First line: "Charlie wakes me as he rises, mattress springs creaking beneath his long limbs."

In the midst of the Depression, newlyweds, Ruth and Charlie Warren, find joy amid the simple things in life—especially each other. Charlie has a job on the Texas oil rigs, and Ruth is making a home for them: "Monday, Wash. Tuesday, Iron. Wednesday, Clean. Etc." It's modest, but the childhood sweethearts are living on love. Until the day the settlement rumbles and shakes; "there's a sound like [Ruth's] never heard before—a sound like trains colliding. [Their] little camp-town tent house shifts, the sofa lurches, the window rattles."

In a devastating and instantaneous turns of events, Ruth finds herself a widow. A blowout on the rig where Charlie was working steals Ruth's universe out from under her. Ruth's parents come and help her--dazed and mourning--to move back to her small Oklahoma hometown of Alba. When the stinging blow starts to dull, Ruth's mentor informs her she was accepted on a full scholarship to Union College in Pasadena.

Against her father's demands, Ruth packs up and heads west so she can study to be a teacher. After marrying Charlie, teaching was her life's dream. But like Charlie, this dream is torn away from her. Determined not to slink back to Oklahoma, Ruth turns to a friend who works with Mexican migrant farmhands near Los Angeles.

She may not have finished her teaching program at Union, but Ruth begins educating the camp's children. Here she discovers fulfillment and friendship and herself. But she also glimpses the horror of immigrant life in the 1930s, and Ruth realizes she can't just be a passive observer to the injustices surrounding her every day.

As Ruth moves from place to place in Halvorsen Schreck's atmospheric novel, she matures into the woman she's destine to become. Only 21 when her husband dies, she's still practically a child. Her naivete contributes to her downfall in school but she packs up that lesson along with the loss of her beloved Charlie and strengthens her determination. Her spirit and passion bring brilliant color to the dusty landscape she's traversing.

Halvorsen Schreck's stunning depiction of the landscape takes readers into the struggling depths of our country's Depression Era. From the scorching death smells of an oil rig blowout to the humorous image of Ruth trying to balance a laundry basket on her head to walk to the river, the period and the environment come alive, bursting with sounds and smells and sights of destitution, but also fortitude and conviction.

The issues surrounding the immigrants, sadly, are still relevant today.  Broken Ground may be a historical novel, but its universal, timeless themes offer food for thought amid the inspiringly beautiful story of a young woman's journey into her adult self.

Broken Ground is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9781476794839) from Howard Books. You can find a copy at your favorite independent bookstore or any of the following online retailers:

Alibris Amazon
Book Depository iTunes Kobo


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