answer creek by Ashley E. sweeney
HISTORICAL FICTION, 353 PP
My feet are sore. My lips are cracked. My stomach yearns. My bones rattle. My eyes freeze. My body aches. My skin burns. My heart weakens. I have walked over two thousand miles from Missouri to California. I have walked in Ada Weeks’ worn boots, with their soles flapping against dust-filled, wagon-rutted paths. I have walked in the boots Ada removed from a dead man to trudge through snow drifts up to her chest.
Ashley Sweeney’s talent to dig deep and pull forth the physical and emotional aspects of a character shines in her second novel, Answer Creek. Ada Weeks, a fictional character inserted into the overland California Trail of the ill-fated Donner Party in 1846, is the heroine of Answer Creek. She earns her title, and then some, through her sheer will and fortitude to survive against the odds and reach the promised land of California where she can start a new life, with or without a man by her side.
Other characters complement Ada on the journey west, but it’s the vivid details and descriptions of the terrain and weather which cast them as antagonistic characters in the story that help them stand on their own.
In a time when women of today still search for the women of history to learn from and lean upon, Ada Weeks is a pioneering character who embodies our pasts and drives our futures. We all need more Ada Weeks in our lives.
Eliza Waite is Ashley Sweeney’s debut novel. What would you call a coming of age story when the main character is in her late 20’s? Coming alive. Inspired by the writings of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Eliza Waite discovers an interior strength to move forward from tragedy and loss to choose a life where she is the decision maker, an awakened woman, physically and spiritually. Set in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest’s San Juan Islands, Eliza, the widow of the local minister who has also lost her only child, forges her way further north to the even wilder Alaskan Territory as the Yukon goldrush heightens in 1898. In the town of Skagway, an unlikely woman befriends Eliza, becoming her closest friend, the madam of the local bordello, Pearly Brown. Pearly encourages the quiet Eliza who withholds any glimpse into her former life. Ultimately, Eliza’s transformation from a shunned woman of St. Louis to the proprietress of her own bakery and café aligns with the beginnings of the suffragette movement and modern feminism. Ms. Sweeney deftly weaves in quotes from Chopin’s The Awakening at appropriate scenes, as well as recipes from Eliza’s file box, to blend the non-traditional and traditional resulting in a story of inspiration and self-determination proving that the ultimate freedom is the freedom to choose one’s path. From The Awakening: “There was something coming to her and she was waiting for it, fearfully. What was it?” Eliza Waite finds her something and someone, all of which is worth the wait. 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award.
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When I noticed how well Ashley had referenced The Awakening as a pivotal read for women in the 1890s, I knew my character Eliza would read it as well as a New Woman. Chopin uses one phrase which she brings in within the first few pages of the book and then repeats it at the end, The voice of the sea is seductive, never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude. This phrase sums up the book. Edna Pointellier, the wife of a wealthy New Orleans businessman contemplates her life and its meaning with tragic consequences.
That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.Jhumpa Lahiri
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