Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Hope Chest

It's hard to believe that it's only been 88 years since the 19th Amendment was passed. In the course of history, that's not very long at all! Karen Schwabach portrays the drama and euphoria of that time in her superb second novel, The Hope Chest.

Ever since Violet's older sister, Chloe, left the family, things haven't been the same. At odds with her family over the suffragist movement, Chloe bought a car with the money being saved for her hope chest (filled with housekeeping items) and moved to New York City. When Violet learns that her mother has been hiding Chloe's letters to her, Violet runs away to find her sister.

When Violet finally gets to New York City, after having befriended a young African-American orphan named Myrtle, she finds that her sister is actually living and working in Nashville. Nashville is ground zero for the ratification of the 19th Amendment, and pro and anti-suffragist groups are feverishly working to ensure that their side wins.

Authors of historical fiction can run the risk of imparting dates and information with the subtlety of a frying pan hitting your head; if the storyline is interesting enough, this can occasionally be forgiven. Luckily, Schwabach skillfully interweaves facts and story together. The unfortunate racism of aspects concerning the suffragist movement is likewise conveyed in a perceptive manner.

Reading a Southern-based novel that's set in a time other than the Civil War or Civil Rights era is always a treat, since it's not common. The Hope Chest is a great read-definitely check it out!

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