Tracy Chevalier's latest book, At the Edge of the Orchard, introduces us to the Goodenough family--James, Sadie and their children. Stuck in Black Swamp, Ohio, in 1838, James works hard to grow fifty apple trees to sustain the family and make good on his promise to settle the land. Sadie is more interested in drinking applejack made from less desirable apples than tending to the farm or household chores. The family suffers from Sadie's drinking spells, James' temper and the loss of children to swamp fever. Fast forward to California in the mid-1850s. Son Robert Goodenough, who as a child worked beside his father in the family's orchard, has a job collecting sequoia and redwood saplings to send to collectors and gardeners in England. He's made a good life for himself in California, but his life is turned upside down when his sister Martha, who he hadn't heard from since leaving home after a family tragedy in 1838, turns up on his doorstep.
Well-researched and character-driven, At the Edge of the Orchard also contains actual historical figures such as John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), tree collector William Lobb, and tourism pioneers Billie and Nancy Lapham. Readers of frontier or pioneer historical fiction will be pleased with the settings as well.
Reviewed by nw, 04/16. Other reviews by nw.