Recently widowed, Rachel Miller is struggling to take care of her farm and raise her three children. Knowing that she needs help, her pastor brings by David Harper, a man who is new to the area and looking for a place to stay for the next couple of months while waiting for the westward bound wagon train to head out. Rachel is happy to give him room and board in exchange for his help around the farm. As David proves to be a hard worker and great with her children, Rachel slowly begins to warm up to him, but knowing that he won't be staying long and not yet over the loss of her first husband, she keeps her distance. When she discovers that her sister and brother-in-law will be heading out with the wagon train too, and David offers an unexpected marriage proposal, Rachel begins to see him in a different light. Finding the prospect of weathering through another winter alone daunting, and with a reluctant affection developing for David, Rachel accepts his proposal and packs up to head west. The journey to Oregon is long and arduous, but through it all David is always there to protect and sustain her and her children. With a new life in a new land looming ahead of her, can Rachel finally let go of the past and embrace her future with her new husband?
A Long Way to Go is a sweet, heartwarming historical romance in the same vein as Little House on the Prairie or Janette Oke's pioneer stories. I think fans of these books would probably enjoy this one as well. Being a long-time fan of both, I liked it quite a bit. It is also the ultimate "road trip" story with the bulk of it taking place as the main characters journey to Oregon via wagon train. I always love these types of stories, because I never fail to be amazed at the courage and fortitude of the early pioneers who braved hardships in order to settle this great land of ours. In the author's note at the end, she mentions how she drew on actual journals and first-person accounts of pioneers who traveled the same trail as her protagonists. I wondered all throughout reading the book if this might be the case, because I felt like I was right there on the journey with them. This is an area where Ms. Belfie really excelled in her storytelling, so kudos for that.
The only thing that kept me from giving the book a higher rating was that I felt her character's motivations could have been explored a little better. In this area, the author has a tendency to skim over things rather than delving into deeper POV. I would have loved to see more narrative introspection to help me better understand what the characters were feeling and thinking, as well as a little more descriptive narration to better set some scenes. I noticed that the introspection often consists of rhetorical questions that the character asks of themselves or God (eg. Why am I feeling/acting this way?). In this respect, it would have been nice if Ms. Belfie had dug into her character's psyches to actually answer some of these questions instead of merely asking them and then leaving it up to the reader to speculate. Despite this small deficiency though, the characters were extremely likable.
Rachel is one of the main narrators of the story. She is a widow who has been struggling with taking care of her farm and raising her three children. Knowing that she needs help, her pastor brings around a nice man who is staying in the area temporarily while waiting for the wagon train to head west and is willing to work for meals and a place to sleep. She likes David and thinks he's attractive, but she's a little prickly toward him at first. It's a combination of her wariness of strangers and viewing David as being partially responsible for her sister and brother-in-law leaving her to go west. After all she'd been through with losing a husband and a son, I suppose she was entitled to feel that way, because she wouldn't have had any family left other than her three children had she stayed in Missouri. Rachel does warm up to David fairly quickly though, perhaps a little too quickly. She goes from being adamantly against going west, even after finding out her beloved sister is going, to accepting David's marriage proposal and being OK with moving seemingly overnight. She supposedly did it so her children would have a father and because she was afraid of facing another winter with no male help, but there wasn't quite enough substance to her thought processes to fully understand her quick change of heart. This is one place where deeper POV would have been really helpful. The other is that Rachel is unable to tell David she loves him until the very end of the story, even though from all appearances she cares for and respects him deeply. She goes through some kind of guilt process, feeling bad about loving David and enjoying being married to him, because she somehow feels unfaithful to her first husband. Without that all-important deep introspection, this didn't fully make sense to me, but otherwise, Rachel was a likable and admirable heroine. She weathered the grueling journey quite well and without complaint and treated David very well in spite of her guilt.
David was a wonderful hero. Right from the start, it's obvious that he's a sweet, kind-hearted man. He's a hard worker around Rachel's farm, and her kids take to him almost immediately. In spite of having lost his first wife and baby in childbirth years ago and never having experienced fatherhood, he's extremely good at it. He relates to each of Rachel's children at their own level, whether it's holding and playing with baby Helen, fishing with young Josiah, or giving advice to the teenage Lucinda. He's very protective of his new family as well, always looking out for their well-being. David is very patient with Rachel too, giving her the time and space she needs to recover from her losses and adjust to being married to him, while biding his time in hopes that someday she'll come to love him every bit as much as he already loves her. Since the majority of the book is written from the perspective of two female characters, I have to admit to missing the male POV a bit, but what we see of David through the other character's eyes paints a picture of a gentle, loving man who would be impossible not to adore.
The other primary POV character is Rachel's sixteen year old daughter, Lucinda. She gets her own budding romance with Ben, a young man she meets on the trail. Lucinda is a very well brought up young lady who seems to have a lot of self-respect. She also takes a page from her mother's book by being a hard worker and never complaining. Instead, she willing helps out by cooking, cleaning, caring for her younger siblings, or doing whatever needs to be done. Despite her youth, I had no trouble believing she would make a good wife for Ben. Ben was every bit as nice and wonderful as David, and I really enjoyed this sweet secondary romance.
Overall, A Long Way to Go was a very enjoyable read. The other secondary characters who were a part of David and Rachel's group on the wagon train added flavor and interest. Rachel's other two children, were rendered age-appropriately. Little Helen was cute, while Josiah's exuberance was contagious. I thought the story gave a nice taste of what it must have been like for the early settlers as they made their way to a new home. The author even used a few real-life personages who were key players in this westward expansion as background characters. I also liked how the faith message was a gentle, organic part of the story. All in all, A Long Way to Go was a nice, easy read that was well-written. I would definitely recommend it to fans of this type of story.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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