Vikki VanSickle's Reviews > The Springsweet

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell
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Apr 09, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: ya

It is no secret that I love Saundra Mitchell.Her prose is beautiful but rather spare (much like the landscape she is writing about) but her skill is such that it doesn’t take a lot of words to conjure a rich story. She is rather like Zora, a ‘word’ sweet summoning a story that is clear and simple with no frippery. The characters use period language and sentence construction which added to the authenticity of the book, but contemporary readers won’t balk at this at times formal or unfamiliar manner of speech.

I was in desperate need of something fresh and this book did not disappoint. I was more than happy to try something other than dystopian, paranormal, or speculative fiction.To be fair, there is obviously an element of magic in The Springsweet, but amazingly Mitchell so completely naturalizes the magic that it just feels like a highly specialized skill, like athleticism or musical ability. Plus the book isn’t about magic, it’s about the thrill and freedom of frontier life.

Lovers of historical fiction like facts and details. There is plenty of that here. I also appreciated how Mitchell did not glorify the grueling pioneer lifestyle. There is nothing romantic about having to do hard labour on an empty stomach. Living in a soddy (literally a house made of sod) is dirty. Carrying a yoke and buckets of water to and from the well is exhausting and painful. All of this is well-represented, but so are the moments of satisfaction, relief and joy that Zora and Birdie have in their hard-won lifestyle.

Even in grief, you get a sense of how feisty Zora is at the beginning of the book and she continues to come into her own as she discovers her skill as a springsweet, learns to fend for herself in the prairie and care for Louella, and comes to terms with her feelings for Emerson. Emerson is the ‘bad boy’ corner of a love triangle that also includes the aristocratic and more formal wannabe poet from Baltimore, Theo de la Croix, who follows Zora to West Glory in order to win her hand. I generally dislike love triangles but this one worked for me. Emerson and Theo are both worthy- though very different men- representing changing attitudes in America at the time. When Zora makes her choice, she is also making a statement about who she wants to be, and I liked this.

Obviously lovers of historical fiction will eat this up and clamor for more, but The Springsweet will also appeal to readers who like a strong female heroine or have a taste for fine writing. At times I was reminded of Bones of Faerie, partially because the writing is so great, but also because the magic is naturalized in a similar manner. Teens who hate magic will probably still love this book. While not totally wholesome, it isn’t racy, so younger readers can enjoy it, too. There is awesome witty repartee, plenty of sexual tension and a few good kisses to swoon over.
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