by Leanne Wood Smith
Having just read and reviewed an emotionally difficult nonfiction book, I was ready for something lighter, but engaging. I found just what I was looking for in Leaving Independence by Leanne Wood Smith. Independence is the name of the town the Baldwyn family, composed of Abigail and her four children, travels to as the departure point for a wagon train going west. In an odd turn of events, the father of the family had been reported dead during the early days of the Civil War, but the war is now over and she receives word that he is serving at Fort Hall in the Idaho territory. Abigail is confused that he did not contact her personally, and the family is low on funds with the bank threatening repossession of their home. A woman of action, she takes her family in search of her missing husband.
There are background stories related to the social and political events surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction. Abigail’s friend and former slave, Mimi, is unable to accompany the family on the trip. The author tells the story with third person narrative and through pieces of letters that Mimi and Abigail exchange during the trip. She creates an interesting tale with a combination of history, mystery, and romance. I found the dialogue to be reflective of the characters and the time except for one anachronism. As the family makes preparations to leave Independence, the teenage daughter, Corrine, is not happy about the trip. Her mother tells her “you’ll have a much better trip if you decide now to embrace this experience.” “Embrace this experience” strikes me as a modern phrase and not one that is typical of 1866. The use of this one expression does not ruin the novel for me, and I do recommend it to do what books do best–help you escape into a different time and place.
I would like to thank netgalley.com and Waterfall Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.