Nikki reviews Charity by Paulette Callen


From the blurb: The friendship between Lena Kaiser, a sodbuster’s daughter, and Gustie Roemer, an educated Easterner, is unlikely in any other circumstance but post-frontier Charity, South Dakota. Gustie is considered an outsider, and Lena is too proud to share her problems (which include a hard-drinking husband) with anyone else.

The book opens with a bit of a mystery. Lena’s husband (Will) has been charged with the murder of his father, and Lena looks for support with the only person she truly trusts, the town’s schoolteacher Gustie. Her friend lives alone outside of town and takes frequent unexplained trips that leave her as a puzzle to many in the town of Charity.

Charity is complex story, primarily because it does not seem to have one main character or couple to focus on. When it began, I considered Lena’s story to be the primary focus of the book, and in a way it is. However, shortly thereafter, the reader gets pulled into Gustie’s journey and her relationship with two Dakotah women, which is linked to a painful time in Gustie’s past. The contrast made this feel like an ensemble story, as I was just as invested in Gustie and Lena’s journeys. 

There’s a lot going on in this one, and a lot of characters to connect, including Lena’s in-laws (who all seem just a little bit off) and a mysterious man from back East whose presence threatens Gustie’s peace of mind.The reader is left to wonder at the seemingly disconnected plotlines, and whether they will ever get resolved, but I promise they do. And I was very satisfied with how everything played out.

What I found most interesting in this story were the relationships of the women set against the cultural landscape of the late 19th century. We meet Dorcas, an older Dakotah woman, who cared for Gustie when she needed it most. While there Gustie forms a strong friendship with Jordis, Dorcas’ granddaughter. We follow Gustie and her interactions which gives the reader direct access to the traditions and pride of the Dakotah people in the face of oppression and prejudice.

At the same time, we are able to witness a complicated family history that slowly unfolds as we delve deeper into the circumstances surrounding the death of Will’s father. By the time I was 2/3 through the book, I could not put it down and had to find out what happened that fateful night in the barn. The author wrote an intriguing story that kept me invested from start to finish. It was also a pleasure to watch how Gustie and Lena (particularly Lena) grew and became stronger women throughout the story.

The only issue I really had with the book were with some of the transitions. I found it was difficult to follow whether I was in present day or a time before, particularly with Gustie’s storyline. Often I had to go back a page, thinking I had missed something that would clue me in to what I was reading. However, that didn’t really take me out of the story enough for it to bother me much. I would still highly recommend this one for anyone interested in a good book to snuggle up with this Fall.

To purchase or download a sample of Charity, click here.

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