This month's pick for the Classic Read along with the Midnight Garden was A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. You can follow along or join in the discussion at http://www.themidnightgarden.net or #tmgreadalong on Twitter.
Genres: YA Historical Fiction
Pages: 336 pages
"I see you've been bawling, said Mrs. Comstock. I thought you'd get your fill in a hurry. That's why I wouldn't go to any expense. If we keep out of the poorhouse we have to cut the corners close."
Elnora's mother lets her know that she knew she'd have to pay for books and tuition. Money that she protests they don't have. Yet, Elnora's mother could have helped her, but she wont part with any of the trees or allow one oil pump to sit on her land. On the night that Elnora was born, her father drowned in the swamp leaving Elnora's mother in a world filled with grief and she can't see clear of making any changes to her and Robert's land. Since then, she hasn't shown Elnora any affection or sympathy, instead heaped her with a ton of chores. Your heart just breaks for Elnora. She is such a sweet girl who has these wonderful morals. She even gives her lunch to these kids who literally have nothing to eat. She'd rather starve a little then pass these kids by. It's so hard to wrap your head around why her mother treats her the way she does. But, Elnora is a very determined and hopes to raise enough money to pay for everything herself.
One of the first things that I so enjoyed about A Girl of the Limberlost were all the lovely adult characters that came along to help Elnora. Starting with next door neighbors Wesley and Margaret Sinton who are such dears. I loved how determined they were to buy Elnora the right sort of clothes a girl should wear to school.
"What had we better get Wesley? Dresses, said Wesley promptly. But how many dresses, and what kind? Blest if I know! exclaimed Wesley. I thought you would manage that."
I love their enthusiasm while picking out dresses, hats, ribbons, and shoes for her and the determination they have to convince Elnora's mother to allow her to keep them or fight her if she wont. There is also Professor Henley, who praises her math skills and helps her get second hand books, and The Bird Woman who buys moth specimens from her. They all provide her the emotional support and love that she so deserves. In the end, it is Elnora's self reliance that is able to get her to raise all the money she needs to get her through graduation.
Elnora is certainly a resourceful girl, who is so determined to graduate and make a better life for herself. Even when new obstacles are thrown in her way, like when her savings runs out and she needs to get college money together, she stills seems to find a way. Elnora is also so very kind hearted and puts faith in her mother. Like when she thinks she will buy her the needed dress to wear in Commencement and instead her mother gives her an old dress. She sets her up to be embarrassed once again. It just makes you so sad and ends up being a huge turning point for Elnora. She begins to see that her and her mother as such strangers to each other. The tipping point though is when her mother makes a terrible mistake and costs her the money she needs to pay for college and the two have a huge argument. Elnora's mother ends up learning some hard facts about her husband and herself when Margret steps in and ultimately her mother begins to see Elnora in a new light. I so loved the change that occurs in Elnora's mom and how she tries to set things right with Elnora. She certainly has her flaws, but so happy that she is able to begin to show Elnora how much she cares about her.
The last part of the story is Elnora meeting a young man from Chicago, Phillip Ammon who is engaged to Edith Carr. There is a budding romance that occurs and Elnora eventually decides that if you love something you must set it free and if it comes back to you it was meant to be. Well sort of, but she does force Phillip to reconcile whether he has feelings for Edith, even though their engagement is called off. Elnora is able to stand up for herself and has the confidence to not be intimidated by Edith. Such a lovely person.
Overall, this was a very sweet book and I'm pretty sure I would have loved this as a child. To get wrapped up in the feel of the Limberlost swamp, with the lovely descriptions of nature, Phillip watching Elnora in wonder, all the lovely food references of chicken and bottles of milk, cookies and "custard with preserved cherries on top." Yummy! There is so much to love about this story, I could go on and on about Elnora learning how to play the violin, the hunting for moth's around the gardens and swamp, but you should read it just for a glimpse of life during the time period it was written in.
Favorite line (Bird Woman to Elnora) "And remember this: What you are lies with you. If you are lazy, and accept your lot, you may live in it. If you are willing to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose, among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others....Work at your books, and before long you will hear yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once classmates of yours."
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