Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: My Loving Vigil Keeping by Carla Kelly (Whitney Finalist)

Title: My Loving Vigil Keeping
Author: Carla Kelly
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Whitney Finalist
This book would be rated: PG

I loved Carla Kelly's 2011 Whitney finalist, so I was excited to see her name on the list of finalists again this year. I was a bit surprised to see her in the Historical Fiction category instead of the Romance category (which she won last year), but I didn't think enough about it to do any research to try to figure out why, I just plunged into the book and started reading.

I read My Loving Vigil Keeping in China, at the end of our two-week trip. I read quite a few books in China, and honestly I was happy to finish most of them and check them off my list, and My Loving Vigil Keeping was the only one I would consider a good "vacation novel." It was long (usually a bad thing with the Whitney books since I feel a lot of pressure to get through them quickly) and a little bit slow-paced, which allowed me to wallow in the story and the characters. Della is the new schoolteacher in Winter Quarters, the village just outside of the Scofield mine, east of Nephi, Utah. Della's father was a miner, but since his death, she's lived for the last dozen years as the "poor relation" in the house of her aunt and uncle in Salt Lake. So when she has the chance to strike out on her own, she jumps on it, not entirely sure if she's making the right choice.

When she arrives in Winter Quarters, she's even less sure of her choice. She can barely breathe because of the altitude, and the principal seems to hate her. But Della stays. In the first few chapters, it's evident that a romance will blossom between her and a certain widowed miner, and although it's a joy to watch the love story unfold, what I really loved about the novel was the way that Kelly shows how Della changes over the course of the year. Yes, it was a bit of a Pollyanna story, but I didn't mind because Kelly is so adept at telling the story. What I was unprepared for was the ending. Like I said, I had no knowledge of the book before I plunged in, and I'm not a native Utahn, so I was totally caught off guard by what happens in the novel's final chapters, when the events of May 1, 1900 are depicted in the novel. Some may say that the ending is implausible, but I would have been heartbroken by the alternative. All in all, I think Kelly accomplishes what many LDS authors strive for but few achieve-- creating an engaging story with fully-wrought characters that also manages to convey important aspects of our faith and culture.

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