This Friday, I’m joining Donna at Retirement Reflections and some of her blogging friends for their monthly What’s on your Bookshelf?
Even though I’ve read five books this month, I decided to focus on just two of them, both set in Maine but very different. That way, I could go into a little more detail about each book. For future What’s on Your Bookshelf?, I will probably continue to focus on two or three books.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
Confession time: Romance novels aren’t my thing. I don’t mind reading books that include a romance, but I usually want some larger plot to bind it all together. However, Evvie Drake Starts Over is indeed a romance novel, with the central story being the relationship between Evvie, a young widow, and Dean, a baseball pitcher who can no longer pitch.
I decided to read this novel because I’m an admirer of Linda Holmes, one of the hosts of the excellent podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. Despite not being a fan of romance books, I stayed up late to finish Evie Drake. Holmes makes us care about Evvie and her struggles with depression and anxiety as she deals with the her husband’s death and the memories of her unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Dean is dealing with his own issues, and I cared about him, too. I wanted things to turn out well for Evvie and Dean. Do they? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.
One final note: This book is set in Calcasset, a fictitious Maine town. And—not to put too fine a point on it—Linda Holmes is “from away,” as we would say in Maine. Because of this there were a couple of missteps. Evvie calls her father Pop, and I’ve never heard any Mainer call his or her father Pop. Usually, it’s Dad. Also, I’ve never heard crickets sing in Maine in the spring. As far as I know, late summer is when they begin their sad, sweet songs. But these are small errors that most people wouldn’t catch, and overall Holmes did a fair job of portraying Maine, albeit from an outsider’s point of view.
We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir by Lucille Verreault Ledoux with Denis Ledoux
We Were Not Spoiled: A Franco-American Memoir is a quiet book about growing up in Maine from the 1920s, when Lucille Verreault Ledoux was born, to the 1950s, when she was a young adult with a family of her own. While nothing exciting happens—this is a chronicle of everyday life—I found it compelling nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because I’m Franco-American, too.
A quick note for readers unfamiliar with the Franco-American ethnic group. Between 1840 and 1930 nearly one million French Canadians came to the United States. The largest number of these immigrants settled in New England. The immigrants worked in factories, in brickyards, in shipyards, and on farms. They formed French-speaking communities that were known as Little Canadas. Today in Maine, Franco-Americans comprise 25% of the state’s population.
In 1920, toward the end of the French Canadian migration, Ledoux’s parents settled in Lewiston, Maine’s Little Canada, where French was the common language. They were originally from Thetford Mines in Québec. Ledoux, born in Lewiston, was the eldest of twelve children. In We Were Not Spoiled, she describes how they were crammed into small apartments and homes where the children often slept three to a bed.
We Were Not Spoiled is not a nostalgic book about how magical life was in the old days. Instead, Ledoux writes frankly about the hard times she and her family endured and how poverty and class limited her opportunities. Her parents valued work over education, and Ledoux dropped out of school when she was sixteen, working at odd jobs to help support the family.
When Ledoux marries and begins her own family, she and her husband, Albert, who also dropped out of high school, vow to do everything they can to encourage their children to finish high school.
In addition to the hard times, Ledoux also writes about the good times—skating, playing with her friends, joining a Drill Team. She notes how despite the challenge of feeding fourteen people, nobody went hungry in her family. No small accomplishment when you have to feed that many people on a tight budget.
The book ends when Ledoux is thirty and is about to move out of Lewiston to nearby Lisbon Falls to begin a new life with her husband as a chicken farmer.
I was sorry to come to the end of this book, to not be able to read about Ledoux’s years in Lisbon Falls.
But then again, wanting to read more is the sign of a good book.