“Once Upon a Summer” by Janette Oke

51r11Dx5fBL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ In the good old simple days, when boys did chores instead of play video games and parents could be efficiently disposed of in farming accidents…Ten-year-old Joshua Jones is perfectly content living with his grandpa, great-uncle, and teenaged aunt “Auntie Lou”. The circumstances that created this unusual family dynamic are explained in detail, as is the fact that Josh has no intention of letting anything disrupt his life’s status quo: not the moving in of his great-grandpa (who turns out to be the awesomest grandpa ever) nor the schemes of the other two men to get Aunti Lou happily married (both to save her from taking care of a household of old men perpetually and to get her safely settled before she starts “looking” for herself and picks a “bad” one).

The Old West farm setting worked well. Enough details were given to give a feel for the labor and the lifestyle without drenching the reader in story research. There were also passages that built a more in-depth picture of the routines and events that these people counted as special, and described them in such a way that I could understand the appreciation the people in that world had for their “simple” pleasures. Have you ever thought of blowing chaff as flying gold? Or have you ever experienced the joy of walking along a creek and getting your feet wet? It’s not always easy to communicate that in words…

The dialect of the prose was not laughable, but especially at the beginning it felt overdone. I found myself wondering if anyone actually talked like this. I’m not denying some people have strong southern drawls, but it seemed done to excess. As the book progressed, either I got used to it, or the narrative eased up on the constant hanging apostrophes and rustic spellings (although they never vanished).

For a novel categorized as a romance, it still refreshingly poked fun at the genre.

The two old men’s attempts at matchmaking are comically unsuccessful. At the same time, I can’t help but be mystified by their choices of suitors. On the surface, their desire to see their daughter and niece provided for in their dwindling years is commendable. But for being (apparently) rock-ribbed churchgoers their criteria for suitors ranges from handsome teeth to good “prospects” in the material sense. The men unaccountably ignore the obvious moral qualifications (or lack thereof) in some of the men they encourage (or discourage) their princess to meet.

This, of course, opens the way for awkward or humorous situations to baffle their schemes. Through it all, Auntie Lou remains blissfully unaware of the romantic intentions of those around her, allowing the narrator to remark on her unusual common sense in contrast to her silly coevals who spend their time in aimless flirtation.

All that said, I was disappointed by the clichés employed in the climax of the book (spoilers at the bottom*). However, the whole book was about as clean of romantic angst as I could wish for, and aren’t happy endings themselves clichéd?

I must make one final point, since not only is this a farmer boy’s story and a matchmaking story, it’s also a story of finding faith. Faith is yet another often clichéd subject, but in this case the youth of the narrator works in the author’s favor. As a child, Josh’s struggle with why a good God would allow suffering isn’t as demanding as an adult’s more complex mental/spiritual battle would be. His childish selfishness and anger, tempered with familial love, felt authentic, even though everyone’s struggle with God is unique. It ends Josh’s journey toward God where it ends the romance – after the “I do”, but before diving into the longer, deeper, harder, richer story of the “marriage”. Just as well — that second half of the story can take a lifetime to tell, and that wasn’t this book’s focus.

It was an interesting story – not pretentious about the well-worn path it was following – and well-crafted within its bounds.

SPOILERS: *[love-at-first-meeting, parental-disapproval-over-money-matters (even when this is exactly the kind of man the parent should supposedly approve), and heroic-deed-that-instantly-wins-parent’s-heart]

Once Upon a Summer is available here on Amazon.

Disclaimer: I received a free ebook copy of this book through a promotion via Family Christian. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise.

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