Mercer Girls by Libbie Hawker
ARC, e-book, 432 pages
Lake Union Publishing
May 10, 2016
Source: Reviewed for review via Netgalley
It’s 1864 in downtrodden Lowell, Massachusetts. The Civil War has taken its toll on the town—leaving the economy in ruin and its women in dire straits. That is, until Asa Mercer arrives on a peculiar, but providential, errand: he seeks high-minded women who can exert an elevating influence in Seattle, where there are ten men for every woman. Mail-order brides, yes, but of a certain caliber.
Schoolmarmish Josephine, tough-as-nails Dovey, and pious perfectionist Sophronia see their chance to exchange their bleak prospects for new lives. But the very troubles that sent them running from Lowell follow them to the muddy streets of Seattle, and the friendships forged on the cross-country trek are tested at every turn.
Just when the journey seems to lead only to ruin, an encounter with a famous suffragist could be their salvation. But to survive both an untamed new landscape and their pasts, they’ll need all their strength—and one another.So Mercer Girls…I have a lot to say about this book and it’s a real mixed bag of feelings. This book came extraordinarily close to being a second DNF this year, but with this one after setting it aside for months I came back and finished reading through it. And I think that was absolutely necessary as it divided the book into virtually two books in my brain (which is what I felt needed to be done here anyway).
Let’s start with what I loved about the book…the cover! I don’t know that the cover really gives any relation at all to the story, mayyyybe she could have been a Mercer girl, who knows. But, this cover would have drawn me to it if I saw it sitting on a shelf regardless of what the story was about or what section it was in. While the majority of the image is in gray-scale, the aqua color pops in the areas where it appears and the red used for the title area added complementing colors. Beautiful cover and I’m not ashamed to say that it contributed to my desire to grab up the book in combination with the book description.
I liked the idea and the historical story behind Mercer Girls. I had never heard of Asa Mercer’s two expeditions to the east coast to round of young women looking to move west to Seattle to marry the men who had went west to build the city. This was the portion of the novel that I did enjoy. The tribulations that Mercer faces in trying to gather more than a few women, even from towns and cities that were facing hardships as a result of the Civil War, were striking. You would have thought that more wanted to travel for opportunity, but not quite the case. Mercer wasn’t trusted, people were afraid that these women would end up as prostitutes instead of wives. But our three heroines (Jo, Sophronia, and Dovey) agree to go with Mercer each for their own reasons – pasts that they are trying to escape. The women’s experience getting to the west was harrowing, the trip by sea was dangerous and quite literally gut-wrenching. I appreciated the bonding of these women over their shared experiences and how they helped each other to survive. Upon arriving in Seattle it was an entirely different experience than what the women expected to find – they were not welcomed and the world was a more spare existence than they anticipated. It was about this time that I felt the novel should have wound to an end, but unfortunately this was only about the halfway point, and where I had set down the novel for a while.
The second portion of the novel was about their new life in Seattle, which I didn’t find nearly half as interesting and felt like a separate story from the earliest part. The women sort of went their separate ways and the story became mired down in the fight for women’s suffrage, which felt heavy and a little bit preachy. Ultimately, the story wound up fairly well, but I struggled to get through this second portion. I did not really like any of the women, especially when they had their own storylines. Together, they were a united front and they interacted well with each other, but on their own they were just uninteresting. Sophronia (what kind of name is that?) was exceptionally preachy, uptight, and small-minded. Jo had the most interesting of a backstory (and that’s not saying too much), but as a person she was boring. Dovey she was just too much of everything: a wreck and a daredevil. They each were more of a stereotype than an actual woman. I did not feel like their decisions were well thought out and they were all over the place.
If this story had ended before the women’s suffrage storyline, this probably would have been a 4 star for me as I enjoyed that plotline. However, the second half of the story was a real drag for me and brought it lower in my opinion of the book as a whole.
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Also by Libbie Hawker:
Daughter of Sand and Stone
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