Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin is the story of three sisters from Sweden in 1897. Their mother died, then their father committed suicide, which in that time and culture went beyond its own tragedy to be considered a disgrace to the family. An aunt and uncle move in to “help” but ended up taking over the farm. To protect her sisters from a danger which only she knows about, oldest sister Elin accepts another uncle’s invitation to come to America.
Elin is the take-charge mother hen of the group. The danger she wants to keep them from has made her wary, nervous, and sad, which irritates her sisters because they don’t know what’s behind it.
Kirsten is the free-spirited, adventurous, independent middle child. She doesn’t want to move to America at first, but when she learns that her relationship with a young man will never advance because of her father’s disgrace, she breaks up with him and wants to leave.
Sophia is the shy youngest, attached to the farm and thoroughly unwilling to go to America. She often visits her mother’s grave and wants to stay near it. But she doesn’t want to be separated from her sisters, either.
The trip via trains, ferries, and finally a ship, is harrowing, especially in the crowded conditions of steerage. Seasickness hits them all, and then a mysterious disease breaks out. Then their arrival is not what they had anticipated when two of them are detained at Ellis Island and even when they finally get to their aunt and uncle’s home. Almost entirely on their own, they have to scramble to find work and a place to live.
Elin and Kirsten both carry weighty secrets from their past. When Sophia is faced with the one thing she fears most, she rediscovers the faith of her mother.
Will they all find release from their burdens? Will life always be a hardscrabble struggle, or will they ever find their new start in this new land? Will they ever find a true home?
New beginnings are almost never easy, even when they’re excitedly anticipated. But starting over under the conditions that they did and at the time they did made it all the harder. So many immigrants came from hard conditions to make a better life and faced so many hardships both in travel and then supporting themselves once they got here. Like the pioneers, persevering through hardships made hardy stock of them – or maybe they were to begin with. This book was quite enlightening, and I enjoyed it very much. As one character says, “Life with God is often very difficult. But life without Him is unendurable.”