Synopses & Reviews
Incorporating the whimsical mountain lore of Appalachia's past, Gretchen Laskas has crafted a story as true to our time as its own, and a cast of characters as poignant as they are entirely original.
Elizabeth and her Mama know intimately the histories of every family that comes knocking on their door, each love, loss, and shadowy secret. Few, however, know their own: who Elizabeth's father is, for instance, or why she goes to live with a man who doesn't love her, sharing his bed and raising another woman's child, or how she yearns for the one miracle her barren body can't produce. But then Elizbeth's adopted daughter begins to display an unexplainable gift, one that can change Elizabeth's life forever -- if she can only allow herself to, finally, love.
"Evocative storytelling" Kirkus Reviews
"Growing out of a storytelling tradition...deeply affecting, beautifully written, this is highly recommended for public and academic libraries." Library Journal
"A tender story of broken dreams." Elsa Gaztambide, Booklist
"A deeply affecting, beautifully written story...highly recommended." Lisa Nussbaum
"Gretchen Laskas opens a door to a world so real it aches and thrills. I could not put down this story of complicated romance, hard wisdom, enduring loyalties, and the miracles one person can bring to another." Robert Morgan
Reading Group Guide
“I come from a long line of midwives,” narrates Elizabeth Whitely. “I was expected to follow Mama, follow Granny, follow Great-granny. In the end, I didn’t disappoint them.
Or perhaps I did. After all, there were no more midwives after me.”For generations, the women in Elizabeth’s family have brought life to Kettle Valley, West Virginia, heeding a destiny to tend its women with herbals, experience, and wisdom. But Elizabeth, who has comforted so many, has lost her heart to the one man who cannot reciprocate, even when she moves into his home to share his bed and raise his child.
Then Lauren Denniker, Elizabeth’s adopted daughter, begins to display a miraculous gift--just as Elizabeth learns that she herself is unable to have a child. How Elizabeth comes to free herself from a loveless relationship, grapple with Lauren’s astonishing abilities, and come to terms with her own emptiness is the compelling heart of this remarkable tale. Incorporating the spirited mountain mythology of prewar Appalachia, Gretchen Laskas has crafted a story as true to our time as its own, and a cast of characters as poignant as they are entirely original.
1. When Elizabeth first learns from her mother about the little red book, did she respond appropriately? How might we respond differently, many decades later? How would we respond in ways similar to Elizabeth’s mother and grandmother—that this was simply part of what it meant to be a midwife?
2. Elizabeth often seems to be caught in the middle of the people she loves—between her mother and grandmother, between Alvin and Ivy, and later Alvin and Lauren. How does this role of “in between” develop her as a character? Did she seem to have more choices or less, by seeing both sides?
3. Elizabeth comes from a long line of midwives. What role did the multigenerational aspect of the novel play? Was the knowledge and understanding of history a beneficial aspect of Elizabeth’s life, or something that caused her more burdens?
4. The friendship between Elizabeth and Ivy would seem a very strange one. Did you feel that it was genuine on both sides? Given her mother’s disapproval at the beginning, do you think this friendship was something she shared with her mother, or something she kept to herself?
5. Although Elizabeth has many chances to leave Kettle Valley in the novel, she never travels more than a short distance from her home. How does this affect her life and the choices that she makes? What emotions do you think kept her from making the decision to leave?
6. Many family secrets are told in this novel. What is the significance of these stories? Did you see them as gossip or oral history? Is there a difference between the two? Why do you think Elizabeth is telling us her own story?
7. When Elizabeth learns that she is unable to have children, she is naturally devastated. How else did it change the way she saw herself and her relationship to those around her? Was it important that this knowledge came in the middle of the book?
8. What, if anything, do the men in Elizabeth’s life have in common with each other? What was it that attracted her to them, and why did each relationship seem to end so sadly? Do you think that Elizabeth would have learned to love David Newland without Lauren?
9. Different forms of healing play a large role in this novel. Given that more women than ever are having babies with midwives or seeking alternative forms of healing, what do you think that medicine today has learned from the past? Did you find the notion of miracles a viable form of healing? What impact does one’s spirituality have on one’s health?
10. This novel does not have an epigraph at the beginning—a bit of poetic verse or a quotation from a book or speech. If you could give the book an epigraph, which one would you choose and why?
11. 11) What kind of life do you imagine Elizabeth having after the book has ended? Do you believe she continues to practice some midwifery? What sort of mother is she likely to be to her children?