Title: The Springsweet
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Genre: YA Historical Paranormal
Series: The Vespertine (Book 2)
Publication Date: April 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
ISBN-10: 054760842X (Harcourt)
ISBN-13: 978-0547608426 (Harcourt)
Reviewed by: Macie
It’s a long way from Baltimore to Oklahoma Territory. But Zora Stewart will go any distance to put the tragic events of her sixteenth summer behind her. So this city girl heads to the tiny frontier town of West Glory to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. When another Baltimorean shows up in West Glory, Zora couldn’t be more surprised. Theo de la Croix made the long trip out west hoping to court Zora, whom he has long admired from afar.
But Zora has developed an attraction to a rather less respectable fellow: Emerson Birch, a rough-mannered young “sooner” whose fertile land is coveted.
As Zora begins to suspect that there may be more than luck behind Emerson’s good land, she discovers an extraordinary, astonishing power of her own: the ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a “springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.
Quick & Dirty: City girl Zora Stewart moves out west to search for who she is and what she wants to do with her life after the tragedies she experienced in this companion novel to The Vespertine.
Opening Sentence: That I went a little mad, I could not deny.
The Springsweet is Saundra Mitchell’s second novel featuring the character of Zora Stewart. Zora has been mourning for a year, and can’t find the will to move on with her life in Baltimore. She starts looking for an escape by marriage answering ads for widowed farmers out west, but cannot go through with it once she is faced with the reality of what that life would entail. Instead, Zora decides to move to the sparsely populated Oklahoma Territory to help her recently widowed aunt with housework and raising her young cousin. I read The Springsweet before The Vespertine, so I did not fully appreciate this book and the character of Zora until I had finished both. This novel is a complete turn from The Vespertine because we now have a new narrator that we had only seen through Amelia’s eyes before, and it is set as far from a city as possible. The strong and eloquent writing style is still very evident in this sequel.
The Zora we see in this novel has experienced terrible tragedies from losing friends, family, and loved ones. I won’t say who so I don’t spoil The Vespertine, but Zora is a changed young woman. She is no longer carefree and playful, but somber and reserved. There is a spark of her former self that comes out when she encounters male characters like Theo de la Croix and Emerson Birch that gets her into trouble with her family and society. When Zora goes to a dance in the beginning of the book, Theo surprises her and she falls into a well. She surprises him by kissing him, ruining her reputation in Baltimore, and catalyzing her move to the Oklahoma Territory. This is a book about Zora finding who she really is after her former life is taken from her as she sets out to make her own way in the world.
Once in West Glory, Zora realizes that her whole life has been easy compared to living in a soddy and hauling water from the well multiple times a day. Her main job is to look after her three-year-old cousin Louella so her Aunt Birdie can take in washing and mending for money. Since travel was expensive and time consuming, Zora has never met her aunt and cousin that she is sent to live with. She learns about them, and comes to understand how much life has hardened her aunt, but that she is still kind. The girl Louella is a stereotypical young girl who has the whole prairie to play in. One thing I found interesting was how well Zora mothers Louella even though she has no younger siblings or much experience with children that we know of. She treats Louella as if she was her own daughter. This raised my esteem of Zora since it showed that she has evolved to be able to take care of others.
In the vast prairie, Zora finds that she has a talent for finding water underground. The magic within her works so she can see and sense where water is, and her aunt sets her up to find potential well spots on other people’s land for money. Her talent turns sour when some people are unhappy with her discovery (or lack of) on their property. She finds a kindred spirit in Emerson Birch because he has the ability to make plants grow. Zora isn’t new to the paranormal. In The Vespertine, her cousin Amelia could predict the future. Zora and Emerson’s paranormal talents complement each other just like Amelia and Nathaniel’s did in The Vespertine.
Zora has two love interests in The Springsweet. The first is Theo de la Croix, the young man from Baltimore that Zora kissed after falling in the well. He followed her all the way to the Oklahoma Territory to unsuccessfully court her. Zora doesn’t dislike Theo, but she is not interested in pursuing a relationship with him. She doesn’t feel like she would be a good match for him, and wants him to do better. It works out well for both of them in the end. The other love interest is Emerson Birch, the scorned solitary Sooner. When her stagecoach is robbed and leaves Zora stranded on the side of the road, Emerson takes her in for the night and gets her to her aunt’s house the next day. The town, and especially her Aunt Birdie, all look down on Emerson since he cheated when getting his land in the land run. This was humorous to me as an Oklahoman since Sooner is a revered mascot for my University’s rival, the University of Oklahoma. It shows how much times have changed when the stigma attached to the term initially kept Zora from pursuing a relationship with Emerson, and now is a source of pride for many people. Besides being a Sooner, Zora cannot find fault with Emerson. He is just a quiet and thoughtful young man who wants to live his life, and Zora can understand this very well.
The novel ends with Zora making up her mind about what she wants to do in life and she goes for it. In the last few pages, Zora receives a letter from someone she thought she would never see again, and now I honestly can’t wait for the next installment in the series. I would recommend this novel for anyone interested in historical romances based in rural mid-America with a taste of the paranormal to tie it all together.
Whim clicked in me, like the pin in a door finally catching. Raising my skirts, I stepped onto the fountain’s wide, low wall and closed my eyes. The water sang now, breathing soft against my face.
A thousand icy pinpoints touched my cheeks, the well-deep chill streaming over me in waves. To the strains of a waltz, I walked the edge of the fountain. No peeking, my imp insisted. My chest felt full of bees, all buzzing wildly as I covered my eyes with my hand.
One step, and then a second. The little danger thrilled me and my senses turned keen. Intimately, I knew the water, the sureness of the stone — I wouldn’t fall in, I couldn’t —
I did, when Theo de la Croix called out to me.
Deceptively deep, the fountain swallowed me entirely. My beaded gown dragged me into the depths, and night, so appealing in the air, seemed a dark cap when filtered through icy water.
And yet, I felt peace. The cold, so sudden, the loss of breath, so complete — I struggled just once against it, then sank in grace.
Hard hands found me. They pulled me from he frigid water that seemed not so much cold as tight around me. It was leaving it that racked me with a chattering, shuddering convulsion.
Laid on the lawn, rolled on my side, I felt very much a rag doll and coughed helplessly when the water drained from my nose and mouth.
The Vespertine Series:
FTC Advisory: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided me with a copy of The Springsweet. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.
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