Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mercer Girls

Title:  Mercer Girls
Author:  Libbie Hawker
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2016. 430 pages.
ISBN:  1503951979 / 978-1503951976

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The thaw had come early to Massachusetts."

Favorite Quote:  "Every woman does what she can with whatever circumstances the Lord hands her. But we all want to live openly, to experience all the wonders Creation has to offer. We all want to be free to guide our own choices."

The book The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott tells the story of the mill girls in the cotton mills of the 1830s in Lowell, Massachusetts. Historically, at the time, Lowell was growing as a manufacturing center. Retrospectively, it is in fact considered one of the hubs of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Mercer Girls begins its story in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1864. The Civil War is nearing its end, but it has taken its toll on the cotton industry and hence on the town of Lowell, which relied on cotton as the heart of its economy.

The story of the Mercer Girls begins in Lowell, but does not stay there. The history goes that Asa Mercer was a business leader in Seattle, Washington. Seattle at the time drew many men to its lumber and fishing industries. Few, however, came with families. Even fewer reputable young women were willing to come to the city. As a result, the population of Seattle was heavily weighted towards single men. Asa Mercer decided to "import" women to balance the ratio. He hoped to bring women of good moral standing as "mail order" brides for the men of Seattle. These young women became known as the Mercer Girls.

Asa Mercer took two trips east in an effort to attract women to his venture.  In particular, he found himself in Lowell, Massachusetts. Knowing the economic difficulties of the town, he offered an alternative.

This is where the story of the Mercer Girls begins. It picks up the stories of three fictitious Mercer girls. The characters are perhaps a composite of the real women, but, in and of themselves, the characters are fiction. Josephine is middle aged and hiding something. Dovey is young and impetuous. She is the daughter of a mill owner fallen on hard times, and she is a runaway. Sophronia is set in her ways and rigid in her beliefs. Each woman has her own reasons for choosing to embark on such a risky, life-altering journey.

The first part of the book is about the journey from Lowell, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington. This is a story of these three women, each with their own secrets. It is also about the bond and the friendship that forms between these three very different women. It covers a relatively short period of time but a vast distance.

The remainder of the book is about the lives these women discover in Seattle. At this point, the women maintain a bond, but the stories disperse as each woman chooses a different path. Through the three women, the book also provides a glimpse at Seattle history at the time - the lumber industry, the role of prostitution, the levy of new taxes, and the women's suffrage movement. This part of the book remains in Seattle but covers a much broader time period and historical framework.

As a result, the part of the book that takes place in Seattle seems more scattered as the women's lives diverge. The pacing of the second half is also much more hurried; in fact, the book skips about six or seven years, jumping ahead to provide a different history The history is interesting, but the story does not benefit from this jump. As a story, I enjoy the first part of the book more, which focuses entirely on these three women, their secrets, and their bond of friendship.

What I love about the book is learning a new bit of history. The fact that the history relates it to another book is an added bonus.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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