Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review: "I Will Send Rain" by Rae Meadows

I love it when a book slowly takes you by surprise, as you realize what on the surface seemed like a fairly simple story dazzles you with emotion and beauty of its telling, when a story about a family tested by difficult times and tragedy reveals its richness, layer by layer. Rae Meadows' newest book, I Will Send Rain, is definitely one of those books.

The town of Mulehead, Oklahoma, as with many towns in the Great Plains region of the U.S. in the mid-1930s, cannot escape the drought. It's wrecking havoc on farming families everywhere, including Annie Bell and her husband, Samuel, who moved to Oklahoma as homesteaders and little by little, built a farm they were proud of, then a family. But now the Bells are suffering—their crops yield little, and the whole town is paralyzed by the economic and emotional effects the drought is having.

When the dust storms start hitting Mulehead, the Bells truly feel they're close to rock bottom. Samuel, who tries valiantly to keep his farm limping along, is suddenly plagued by dreams of severe rain that he cannot explain, nor can he explain what he is compelled to do as a result of those dreams. Their 15-year-old daughter, Birdie, is in the flush of young love and wants much more out of life than Mulehead can offer her, but doesn't think anyone can understand her hopes and dreams, even if she is risking her chance at freedom. The Bells' young son, Fred, a sensitive, old soul, is plagued by dust pneumonia, and Annie herself finds herself tempted by a new admirer for the first time in her life, and is unable to understand the fervor of her husband's actions.

"More and more, he saw the drought as a test of faith. More and more, she feared the drought would free this tight coil of restlessness in her, expose her as someone less than steadfast."

As conditions in Mulehead worsen, Annie is torn between the path she has taken her entire life and the chance for something new, something that might offer her a way out of the crushing devastation the community is experiencing. But can she risk everything she has, everything she knows, for the slim hope of a chance? Does she really want to? And as Annie tries to make sense of what is happening to her family, her home, and her faith, she knows that problems won't simply be solved with much-needed rain, but she has to decide whether to see things through or finally live life for herself.

I thought this book was truly lovely, full of tension, emotion, anguish, and hope. Meadows so perfectly captured the anxiety and fears of this terrible period in American history, how people were affected and how they coped. As I mentioned earlier, this seemingly simple story of a family dealing with adversity packed so much power, so much beauty, that even when you had a feeling how certain plot threads might resolve themselves, you felt the story and these characters in your heart.

I'll admit that at first I was hesitant to read I Will Send Rain because historical fiction doesn't always resonate with me. But this book was really just so good, and Meadows' storytelling ability shone through a book which takes place in such a drab time and setting. This is a book—and an author—worth taking into your heart.

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