Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REVIEW | Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
Publication Year: 2015 (September 1st)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime/Thriller
Series: NA (though I have hopes for a series, Pretty Please!!)
Awards: None
Format: Hardback from Library
Narrator: NA

Why?: I think I first heard about it on Book Riot's All The Books podcast and was interested based on my undying love for historical mysteries.

Three sisters living in rural New Jersey in 1914 have their quiet lives shaken when they have a vehicle accident with the wrong man.  The story is told from the perspective of the oldest sister Constance as she stands up for her family and discovers her own strength and a hidden talent for law enforcement.  Author Amy Stewart, who has also written a number of well-loved non-fiction books, based the story on actual contemporary news clippings about the harassment of the Kopp sisters and how they responded in a way that was not common from women of that time.

First of all I have to gush at what a great job Stewart does at re-creating the nineteen-teens in America.  It's not the glamorous or big picture view but is focused on everyday life. It's immersive and not flashy and I wanted to hug it to myself.  There is one scene where all three of the Kopp sisters, who live very simply and frugally on a farm, are taken ill and are confined to their beds.  Without someone to keep the stove stoked or go into town or prepare food, when Constance is the first to rouse the house is freezing and there is literally no food to be had easily.  It made me think about what life was truly like without the modern conveniences and everything at one's fingertips.

Notice above that what drew me initially to the book was an impression that it is a historical mystery.  It's more of a crime/thriller in actuality but it does contain some elements of a mystery in the secondary story lines.  The mash-up of genres really worked for me and I wasn't sorry at all that it was not a classic historical mystery.  Though I wouldn't call it a traditional page-turner, I became completely immersed in the story whenever I sat down with the book and became really invested in Constance, Norma and Fleurette's lives.  

My impression at the start of the book was of an idyllic early 20th century family.  Three affectionate sisters living on a farm and a caring brother who lives in town but who wants to look after them.  The mother of the family has recently died and the women's futures are somewhat in question but they seem to be well-equipped and capable.  As the book progresses and more pieces of the family puzzle get dropped in, a more realistic picture of a rather dysfunctional family emerges just as the situation with their harasser, Mr. Kaufman, deteriorates and becomes more dangerous.  This is not the story of a family falling apart however, it is of a family finding new energy and coming together with a purpose.  The three sisters are so different from one another and they get on each others nerves but that doesn't stop them from loving and depending upon each other quite fiercely.  It's a lovely portrait of a real family.  
Despite the rather dire plot and some heavy content and themes, the book has such a wry, funny tone and stays pretty light throughout.  I love when an author is able to strike that balance and deliver substance without making me feel weighed down with it.  I think Stewart gets it just right.  

Finally, I have to take a moment to shine a light on Constance, and all the characters in the book.  Constance is so fabulous.  She's a spinster at the age of 35 and very tall and strong for a woman.  When she first appears she is reveling in the freedom that has come with her tyrannical mother's death but is also feeling a little lost.  She wants to preserve she and her sister's independence but they don't have much money to live on and their brother is pressuring them to come live with him.  Constance rebels against becoming the spinster Aunt whose only purpose in life is serve in her brother's household but she is also unsure how to be anything else.  The horrible situation they find themselves in, helps her find her courage, her fierceness, and emboldens her to pursue a new path.   I was also intrigued, though this is a bit of a MILD SPOILER, by what I interpreted as romantic tension between Constance and the Sheriff.  The Sheriff is married and nothing comes of it, which made me wonder why Stewart included it or if I was misinterpreting.  I don't think I was misinterpreting.  It makes me hope that this may turn into a historical mystery series??!!  I would be super ecstatic and 120% behind this decision.  There is a ton of potential.

The Prose:
Being the tallest girl in the class, I was once dressed as Uncle Sam and was placed in the center of the stage while forty-five girls, each portraying a different state, danced around me. Norma refused to choose a state.  Wyoming was forced upon her. She wore a linen dress the color of sand and spread her arms wide to convey the vastness and futility of a place she could not imagine and did not wish to.

This quote is perfect because it helps characterize Constance and her sister Norma (who is ornery and a homebody) and also illustrates the dry humor and tone of the book.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book has many levels and worked so well on all of them.  Immersive historical fiction with a gripping crime plot, terrific characters, heart and a great sense of humor.  I loved it.  4 out of 5 stars.
Other Opinions are Available: Washington Post | The Book Stop | Broken Teepee

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