Francesca Sittoni is a very young woman to have been married, widowed, and twice pregnant. A few years after World War I, her second husband forces her and her young daughter to leave their home in Tyrol to immigrate to a Wyoming mining camp. Francesca may not speak English, but she knows the rules. Keep house as well as she can on a miner's wages, never have an opinion, and expect a violent response if she questions her husband. Even living in brutal poverty is better than being widowed a second time and facing eviction from the mine-owned shack where she and her daughter live.
Francesca answers a newspaper ad for a live-in housekeeper. Kent Reed, a troubled, disabled World War I vet, had no idea his advertisement would bring a pregnant foreign woman and her child to his doorstep. He needs her, even if he doesn't want to admit it. She and her child desperately need him. They form a tentative alliance, though each is wary of the other.
What they have on their side is Elena, a precocious four-year-old whom both love; time; the isolation of a Wyoming ranch; and common sense. Willow Vale is a slow (in a good sense) unfolding of two very damaged people rediscovering respect for each other and for self--and finally love.
My only quibble with the book is that we aren't told how much of this story is based on real life. Considering the dedication, I assumed this is a fictionalization of the author's grandmother's life. Not knowing where real life mutates into fiction didn't harm the book in any way, but I was curious.
This book is not only a fine read in itself, but it also could be a springboard to read with older teen-agers as an introduction to discussing what real love and real maturity mean. A lovely, hopeful story.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Alethea Williams grew up in a boom-and-bust railroad town. Williams has contributed a monthly newspaper column subsequently turned into the ebook Boomer Blues Book: Staying Alive and Sane in the Modern American West. She has won awards for her writing, and published short stories. A past president of Wyoming Writers, she is happy to be back living in Wyoming. Visit her website.
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