Plot: Life just gets harder and harder for Julie. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina with her parents and siblings in the late 1800s. The novel begins with the death of her younger brother and is closely followed by the death of her sickly father. During her father’s illness and after his death, most of the hard labor falls on Julie as her mother is ill and her other sisters are more feminine. When she marries Hank, she is excited to start a new life where at least she will be working for herself, but the hardships continue. The man she and her new husband are living with dies and the two live in fear of being put out of his home by his heirs. There is ice and a flood, the chickens are killed by a mink, Hanks loses his job, Julie butts heads with her mother-in-law, near starvation causes the pre-mature birth of Julie’s baby and its eventual death. Julie’s belief in God and her hard work ethic are the only things she has going for her.
Why I liked it: The novel reveals Hank and Julie’s relationship from its start until about a year and a half into their marriage. Both are young, Julie not even seventeen, when they marry, and it is interesting to see how they grow and mature.
Classroom application: This novel or even just a chapter of it could be used as a fiction pairing in an American History course. The novel depicts pre-industrial life around the turn of the century (late 1800s into early 1900s). While North Carolina is not part of the Western frontier, the challenges Julie and Hank face are similar to those faced during Western expansion.