Here we are, Book #6 for 20 Books of Summer! I am actually making great progress with this challenge, as I have read 12 of my 20 (although I’ve bogged down a bit this week – so scared to get sucked into the next Codex Alera book…!!!!), but I am suuuper behind on reviews!
A Girl of the Limberlost is Gene Stratton Porter’s sequel to Freckles (which I have read several times, and reread earlier this summer). It’s a loose sequel as only a few of the characters from Freckles reappear in this tale, although I think some aspects of the story would be confusing if you hadn’t read the first book.
On the whole, this book was not nearly as enjoyable as Freckles. The story was much more disjointed and confusing. The main character is Elnora, and when the story begins she is just getting ready to start high school. At this time (early 1900’s), high school education wasn’t free. Elnora’s mother is a widow and they don’t have a lot of money to spare. Her mother thinks that education is really quite a waste, but has grudgingly agreed to pay Elnora’s tuition.
And this is where, right off the bat, things get confusing. Basically, Elnora’s mother is really a jerk. Her husband died before they had been married a year, when she was pregnant with Elnora. He was sucked into a quagmire in the Limberlost, and Elnora’s mother watched him die, unable to help him. Except later part of the story seems to be that she was actually giving birth to Elnora? Or she gave birth and then ran to the swamp but wasn’t in time because of giving birth? None of which makes sense, really, and it never does get clarified.
But apparently Elnora’s mother holds Elnora responsible for her father’s death, and has treated her badly her entire life. Literally, the first sentence in the book starts us off with Elnora’s mother ragging on Elnora: ” ‘Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?’ demanded the angry voice of Katharine Comstock as she glared at her daughter.” There just isn’t any kind of background or explanation. By the end of the first chapter, I found myself wondering if I had some kind of edited copy wherein the first bit of the book had been eliminated, because it felt as though I had jumped right into the middle of the story.
Elnora and her mother have a pair of close neighbors who live where the Duncans lived in Freckles. The Sintons are good, hardworking folks. They were unable to have any children of their own, but they love Elnora dearly, and they hate the way Elnora’s mother treats her. But not, apparently, enough to do anything about it. About halfway through the book, there is a HUGE reveal, in which Mrs. Sinton finally tells Elnora’s mother the truth about Elnora’s father (spoiler: he wasn’t that great of a guy), and Elnora’s mother suddenly goes through a complete 180* turn, declaring that her life of mourning her husband has been a waste, and suddenly she adores Elnora and can’t do enough for her. So…. why didn’t the Sinton’s mention all this like 15 years ago…???!!
I don’t know, it was just a really confusing story. Elnora’s mother is a character who makes no sense. Sometimes she’s mean, sometimes she’s super nice, and she just doesn’t make sense. I was consistently befuddled by her actions and words. The Sintons are a little better, but their relationship with Elnora’s mother is weird, too, and despite the fact that they claim to love Elnora like their own daughter, it seems like they could have done a lot to make Elnora’s life easier with minimal effort on their part.
There is this whole story with these poor little children who are starving because their father is a drunk and doesn’t take good care of them. Finally, Elnora and Mr. Sinton go to the see the children at their home and see if they can help them, and turns out that their dad DIED (as in, he is still in his bed and the kids think he is sleeping except he’s dead), and legit Mr. Sinton just takes the youngest kid home with him and they adopt him… and we never hear about the other two kids again. We kind of assume that they get help, too…?? But snatching this kid away from his family seems really horrible to me, and it is totally presented as No Big Deal. And again… the Sintons have always wanted children, so why didn’t they just take all three?? And also… hello, Mr. Sinton brings home a CHILD without consulting his wife first?! And basically blackmails her into agreeing to raise him!?
The love story is ABSURD. Handsome Young Man comes to the countryside for his health. He tells Elnora that he is engaged to be married to a Beautiful Society Woman back in Chicago. However, he then flirts with Elnora all summer, and at the end of the summer is basically like, “Um, so if you wanted to kiss me, that would be cool…” and Elnora is like, “No, Handsome Young Man, you must be faithful to your Beautiful Society Woman!” and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, okay, thanks for reminding me!! Toodles!” and then he toddles back to Chicago like nothing ever happened. Except Beautiful Society Woman gets angry at him about something stupid and scorns him in public, and then his love is as ashes, and he flees back to the Limberlost, and basically proposes to Elnora immediately. She’s like, “Um. Weren’t you engaged like yesterday to someone else?” And he’s like, “Well, yeah, but she is but an empty-headed Beautiful Society Woman. I want a Real Woman like you, who doesn’t mind bugs and moths and swamps.” Elnora, who is legit the only likable character in this entire book, is pretty much like, “Well, you’re going to have to wait a while because I’m not super convinced of your sincerity.” Blah blah blah the summer passes, Beautiful Society Woman returns and causes trouble, and Elnora runs away and hides and doesn’t tell anyone where she is going, and then Handsome Young Man is SO DISTRESSED that she is gone that he almost DIES from worrying. What. Even.
But the NUMBER ONE REASON that this book drove me crazy was because Porter COULD NOT stop using the word “panted.” I mean, seriously. It’s like she read that word and thought it was nifty, and used it all the time, and her editor was like, “Gene. Gene, Gene, Gene. I like what you’ve got going on here but… don’t you think you should switch it up a little? You’ve used the word ‘panted’ three times on the same page.” And Porter said, “Hush your mouth. There is NO BETTER WORD THAN ‘PANTED’. IT IS THE ONLY WORD THAT TRULY EXPRESSES WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY HERE.”
If they aren’t panting, they’re groaning or sobbing or crying.
- “Such vulgarity!” panted Edith Carr.
- “Nothing on earth could kill that!” she cried
- “Don’t mention clothes,” sobbed Elnora.
It just got really annoying after a while, especially the word “panted.” Every time I read it, I just pictured the speaker standing there with her tongue hanging out.
It wasn’t all bad. There were still some good descriptions, and there could have been an interesting story if Elnora’s mother had made a bit more sense. But on the whole, I definitely didn’t enjoy this book at anywhere near the level of Freckles, and I wouldn’t recommend it even to people who enjoyed that tale. 2/5.