In Julia’s Hope by Leisha Kelly, Samuel Wortham is out of a job, like so many others in the early 1930s. Not only did his business close, but the investment he financed with money from his wife’s inheritance failed. The family has just a few dollars. Sam’s cousin says there’s work for Sam in Illinois, so the family is going to hitchhike from Pennsylvania.
Julia, Sam’s wife, is understandably angry with Sam over the lost investment, but she tries to keep a brave face for the children and make the trip an adventure.
It occurred to me then that I ought to pray for help in getting over the anger I felt towards Sam. But I didn’t do it. I guess it was easier to think that I’d forgiven him already and was just entitled to my feelings beyond that.
A few days into the trip, with money gone and the family eating in soup kitchens and sleeping wherever they can, Sam calls his cousin to tell him where they are. He’s told the job fell through and the cousin himself is looking for work.
But when Samuel stepped out of that office, looking like a stormy wind had dashed him against a wall of stone, the clouds descended over me and I turned away. I knew by his face. Dewey wouldn’t be coming. Dewey couldn’t carry all the hopes we’d pinned on him. We were alone.
One day, caught by a sudden downpour, the family takes refuge in an abandoned farm house. Something about it appeals to Julia and the children, so she proposes they find the owner and see if they might be allowed to stay in return for working on the place. Sam thinks the idea is crazy, but Julia is so set, he humors her.
They discover the homeowner is an elderly lady named Emma. She loves the house, but due to a heart condition and the loss of leg, she can’t live there alone any more, so she has been living in a boarding house in town. Though what the Worthams propose is unconventional, she agrees to let them stay at her house so that it doesn’t deteriorate further.
The Worthams feel like they are taking unfair advantage, though. So within a few days they propose a new situation: that Emma come out and live with them at the house. She agrees.
Emma and Julia both know how to live off the land – what greens are good for food or tea, how to plant seeds and cultivate vegetables etc. But Sam is totally out of his element. He has never farmed and he’s worried about Emma’s care. But there doesn’t seem to be anything else he can do, so he puts forth his best effort.
Emma is a town treasure, so many of her friends check on her and the Worthams. Some of her friends, however, suspect the Worthams have “sweet-talked” her and are out to milk her out of her property, and they make no end of trouble despite Emma’s assurances. One in particular “was a difficult sort, one who was pleased to be displeased.”
I loved this story. Its main appeal to me is how clearly Leisha communicates the character’s feelings. I ached along with Sam in his financial predicament, his guilty feelings, and his loss of self-respect. I understood Julia’s struggle to put aside her anger, forgive, and attend to her children in a way that kept them hopeful, rather than afraid. I felt Emma’s joy at being home again.
But I also enjoyed reading about this time era, not one that I can remember seeing much in fiction. I enjoyed the gelling of a new family group. And I appreciate the way the people in the community helped each other though most of them didn’t have a lot themselves.
We all need each other, and that’s how the good Lord intended things to be.
“You think when that boy come bringin’ the Lord bread and fish, that the Lord shoulda just sat an’ ate it all his own self?”
“Well, no, he couldn’t. He fed the five thousand.”
“That’s right,” she said with a smile. “Didn’t look like it, but God’s got plenty for ever’body. So it don’t hurt me none to share.”
The point of view switches between Sam, Julia, and Emma, so we see their different perspectives. The faith element is woven in naturally.
This is the first book in a long time that I stayed up too late to read and had a hard time putting down. I immediately started reading the sequel, and I am looking forward to more with the Wortham family.