Romalyn Tilghman's debut novel, To the Stars Through Difficulties, presents parallel stories that weave into a suspenseful novel. One part relates the history of the building of the Carnegie Libraries in Kansas. Other stories tell of the present-day struggles of three women from different socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic areas of the United States. Fate seemed to bring Traci from NYC, Angelina from Philadelphia, and Gayle, a Kansas native, together in New Hope. Tensions mount, self-doubt runs high and suspicions dart about rampantly.
Angelina's diligent efforts to complete the thesis for her PhD, her conniving cruel mother, and several other stressors attack her self-esteem daily. As a last-ditch effort to make her life count for something and against her widowed mother's wishes, she travels to New Hope. Her father had grown up there. Angelina remembers one visit to New Hope with her father when she was about nine and the blissful days she spent with her paternal grandmother. Her mother refused to visit Kansas, and threatened Angelina's dad with divorce if he ever dared visit New Hope again.
Traci is a self-taught artist who obtains a job as artist-in-residence for the summer via an internet ad. She lies on her resume and is shocked when the New Hope library committee hires her. She never has taught a class, never even taken an art class. Traci is able to wing her way through the first few days by tapping into her sensitivity to others. feelings, her innate kindness, and her creative artistic ideas. Discarded as a newborn and found naked in a trash can in Times Square, NYC, she was adopted by a family with a young son who was not happy giving up his only-child-throne. Her adopted brother called her Trash, and the nickname stuck. The parents later divorced, and she ran away at age 16. She gained a small following in NYC for her ability to create art out of trash. She feels unworthy and has the lowest self-esteem imaginable. Even when she becomes very ill during her summer in New Hope, coming there proves to be the best thing that has happened to her.
Gayle is a native mid-westerner who lived in Prairie Hill, Kansas, all her life. Nothing is left standing in her hometown following a tornado. She and her husband escape injury, but they lose everything. Their young adult son had moved away for more opportunities. Gayle suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Whenever she hears a tractor running, she re-lives the trauma of the tornado barreling its way through Prairie Hill. She feels hopeless until she starts attending the quilting circle at the New Hope Community Center.
The details sprinkled throughout the novel about the Carnegie Libraries are fascinating; it puts a human face on the Carnegie Libraries miracles. The fund-raising efforts of the Kansas frontier women are well researched and poignant, and while the novel starts slow, that.s necessary to set up the story. I am glad I gave it a chance and kept reading. The ending reveals a surprise twist that I didn't see coming. I highly recommend this novel. Interestingly, the title, To the Stars Through Difficulties, is the Kansas state motto.
Romalyn Tilghman, a freelance writer and consultant in arts management, earned BA and MS degrees from the University of Kansas, and studied through UCLA's Writers Program. To the Stars Through Difficulties is her debut novel. Her work as Executive Director of the Association of Community Arts Councils of Kansas, and Regional Representative for the National Endowment of the Arts inspired this novel. She lives in Southern California. For more information, visit her website.
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