Goodreads Summary: The first step in a challenging journey is often the one that means the most.
Though it means saying goodbye to the beloved friends and spiritual mentors of her St. Charles, Missouri quilting circle, Anna Goben is certain that she needs to enlist her family in the Boones Lick Company wagon train. The loss of her beloved brother in the Civil War has paralyzed her mother and grandfather in a malaise of grief and depression and Anna is convinced that only a fresh start in the Promised Land of California can bring her family back to her. Although the unknown perils of the trail west loom, Anna’s commitment to caring for her loved ones leaves no room for fear—or even loving someone new.
During the five-month journey, trail hand Caleb Reger plans to keep a low profile as he watches over the band of travelers. Guarding secrets about his past and avoiding God’s calling on his life, Caleb wants to steer as far from Anna as she does him, but she proves to be just as he assessed her from the beginning— independent, beautiful trouble.
Led by a pillar of hope, the group faces rough terrain that begins to take a toll on their spirits. Will the wilderness of suffering lead them astray, or will the gentle song of love that echoes across the prairie turn their hearts toward God’s grace and the promise of a new home?
Genre: Historical Fiction: late 1800’s America; Christian Romance
After some of the darker, overly emotional books I have read recently, I needed something lighthearted to cleanse my reading palate. I picked up Prairie Song by Mona Hodgson at my library’s last Annual Book Sale, and it looked like it would fit the bill perfectly. However, just when I thought I would get away with something entirely uplifting, the last quarter of the book took a drastic turn.
We ride along with the Boone’s Lick Company wagon train as they begin their journey from Missouri to California. As a side note, I really want to know if people actually named their companies along the lines of “Boone’s Lick”. It strikes me as ridiculous, and I thought most were simply a variation of the Captain’s name, but I could be wrong.
Anyways, the story mainly follows the journey according to two women: Anna Goben, an eighteen-year-old making the trip with her grandfather and alcoholic mother, and Caroline Milburn, a childless widow who is traveling as a nanny for a family she barely knows. Both women come from chaotic lives and see a fresh start in California as a chance at a better life. To add to the chaos, Anna is supposed to marry one of the trail hands, but refuses on the day the wedding is scheduled.
The wagon train is filled with interesting people, and as this is the first book in a series I look forward to learning more about some of the other characters. It doesn’t take long for drama to stir up, and as the party faces bears, illness, and other potential catastrophes, emotions run high. Friendships grow and are tested, as well as family relationships. Romance quickly arises too, for both Anna and Caroline.
Mona Hodgson does a wonderful job providing interesting backstories for each character. Just like getting to know a new friend, we learn pieces of each character’s story over time. No one is perfect, and everyone has their own story. None of the characters are simply there to fill out the landscape: they all have an unique and compelling reason for being the way they are and an explanation as to how they came to be in the wagon train. Obviously, we don’t learn everything about everyone (again, I’m eager to learn more in future books in this series), but those we are allowed to get to know are well written. The only exception I would raise is the speed with which romance develops. The book only spans a few months, yet in that time some of the characters go from detesting each other to marrying. Granting that there are not many opportunities for romance on the (they presumed) empty prairie nor in the wild west they hoped to reach, I still found the romance a bit cheap at times. There were even times I had to roll my eyes at the ease with which emotions changed and opinions were swayed. Life and relationships simply are not that easy, and the premise these relationships are forged on does not promise to endure. As they demonstrate, emotions and opinions change, and not always for the better. Three months is not long enough to truly know someone.
However, I will relent from the tirade I could wind up to because I recognize that this is intended to be a simple romance story. The relationships do not have to demonstrate lasting love, just enough to last the pages of one book.
While Anna and Caroline’s respective romances are the main focus, the author also draws in themes of family, grief, alcoholism, trust, trust, and faith. These are dealt with gently, showing up in everyday life, not ground into oblivion with over-analysis but also not taken too lightly. Anna’s mother has a serious problem with alcohol, and while the reasons behind this are explored they are not used to excuse her actions. These important topics are given fair and good treatment despite the context of a romance story.
For fans of simple romance and historical fiction, I highly recommend Prairie Song. It’s not the latest release (initially published 2013), and as far as I know has never been a fad sensation, but this is still worth your time. It is much lighter than some of the books I have read recently, but still takes serious matters seriously and deals with important topics.
Disappointingly, it appears that as of this writing there are no further books published in the Hearts Seeking Home series. Mona Hodgson does have a few other series and multitude of historical fiction books out though, including some featuring minor characters from Prairie Song which you can check out on Goodreads.