Monday, June 15, 2020

Book Review: Julie by Catherine Marshall


Author:  Catherine Marshall
Publisher:  Avon (1984)
364 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction

First Lines:  "As I stood on Lookout Point and viewed Alderton seven miles below, I wondered what changes I would find.  Fifty years had altered the town very little.  The population was now about forty thousand, with the growth centered in residential areas built on higher ground, but downtown Alderton was much as it had been when the Wallace family first arrived in September 1934."

Julie Wallace and her family are moving to Alderton, Pennsylvania when the novel opens.  Her father has resigned his position as pastor of a church in Timmeton, Alabama and is taking over as publisher of The Alderton Sentinel.  Julie loves to write and has dreamed of becoming a writer.  She hopes that the newspaper will give her an opportunity to use her skills.  She will be starting her senior year of high school in the new town.  

The year is 1934.  The United States is in the midst of the depression.  The Wallace family has never been wealthy, and taking over the newspaper requires the use of Mrs. Wallace's inheritance.  When he acquired the newspaper, he also inherited Miss Emily Cruley, an elderly woman who has been at the paper for years.  Mr. Wallace is not sure he will be able to afford to pay Miss Cruley, and he certainly doesn't have money hire any other help.  The entire family will need to help out in order to get the paper published.  Miss Cruley doesn't approve of Julie and her siblings helping out at the paper.  However, Mr. Wallace has no other choice.  

Julie is thrilled to be working at the newspaper.  Her first job is proof reader.  She attends school during the day and arrives at the paper after school.  She has made a few friends and has developed a crush on a Englishman who rescued her family when their car became stuck in the mud on the way into town.  

There is a steel mill in town that employs many men.  The owner, Tom McKeever, "runs the town".  He doesn't appreciate newcomers who are trying to change things in the town.  When Julie and her father begin asking questions about the safety of the dam, Tom McKeever threatens them and their newspaper.  Tragedy strikes when a heavy rain causes the dam to collapse and sends a deluge on the town.  

This is the second novel written by Catherine Marshall.  Her first was Christy.  The character of Julie Wallace, "is in part drawn from Catherine's own memories of her life in Keyser, West Virginia, as an eighteen-year-old."  The flood is based on the Johnstown Flood of 1889.  This is a great piece of historical fiction.  The description of the flood was incredible.  Part of it was told as a reporter would tell it from descriptions of others and part was told as experienced by Julie Wallace.  I felt like I was there.  

I also learned a lot about how a small weekly newspaper was operated during this period of history.  That was fascinating.  Catherine Marshall has a direct writing style that I always enjoy.  She includes many quotidian details that I love to encounter in writing.  For example:

"The decision of what to wear to the office was not very hard for me.  With money so scarce, I made do with a wardrobe of three skirts and five blouses in mixable colors, a blue taffeta dress for Sundays, a rose-colored silk one for parties, several sweaters, and an old playsuit for dirty work around the house.  Everyone wore saddle shoes to school - mine were brown and white.  One pair of good shoes, assorted hats, gloves, belts and underwear completed the wardrobe."

The faith thread in this novel is interesting.  It mostly involves Mr. Wallace.  He had been a pastor and resigned his position.  Julie has never been told what happened to cause him to do that.  What she has witnessed is that he often endures a bout of malaria or illness during a stressful time.  She notices a change in him after he begins meeting with Dean Fleming on a regular basis.  Her dad seems stronger physically and emotionally.  Dean Fleming came to introduce himself to Mr. Wallace, put in an order for handbills and offered his time for 10 hours a week as maintenance man for the printing equipment.  He refused to take payment for his time.  Dean immediately stands out as someone who is different.  He is very generous and wants nothing in return.  Julie is curious what has changed in her dad and asks Dean.  Dean tells her to ask her dad.  As she begins asking questions and getting some answers, her faith increases.  

This is a fascinating work of historical fiction that you won't want to put down.

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