Monday, August 23, 2021

Book Review: When I Last Saw You

By Sara Steven

GEORGIA, 1968 - Margaret Rose McCutcheon has just buried her husband and must now name a beneficiary for their estate in case of her demise. She is hard-pressed to do so because there is no one. No children. No family. At least none to speak of. At one time, she had two sisters and six brothers, but the lot of them were scattered to the four winds, with no one knowing where the others went. In the hope of finding at least one of her siblings, Margaret hires a detective and sets off on a journey to uncover the truth of why the family broke apart as it did.

WEST VIRGINIA, 1901 – When Eliza Hobbs gives birth to her sixth child, her husband is not there to welcome his daughter into the world. No surprise, because Martin is seldom there. He works in Charleston and returns to Coal Creek only when he has a mind to. Yes, he sends money on occasion, but seldom enough to make ends meet. Although Eliza believes each new child a blessing, he sees them as yet another responsibility on his already overloaded shoulders. When he discovers another child is on the way, he demands she get rid of it. he stops returning home and there is no more money.

Left with the children, a mountainside patch of land, and a house in sorry need of repair, Eliza seeks help and turns to someone powerful enough to hold sway over Martin and force him into providing for his family. Pushed to the brink, Martin does something unforgivable and the family is forever torn apart.

Now, after all these years, will Margaret be the one to find the pieces of her broken family? (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Somehow, I missed the fact that When I Last Saw You was based on a true story. That only adds to the depth and sincerity I found while reading about Margaret Rose and Eliza’s experiences.

Most of the books I read focus on the younger generations, but Margaret Rose is a sexagenarian who has recently lost her husband. Her perspective on life was refreshing, particularly when she recounts the past. Coming from a large family that had lived a small-town life in Coal Creek, it’s hard for her to reconcile one tough existence with the other. When she hires a detective to find her missing family members, I was anxious to uncover truths and hidden secrets right along with her, and I loved hearing about her adventurous spirit in an age where the older generation is made to feel like their wild days are behind them. She goes against the grain of stereotypes, even when there are moments of fear--what will people say?

Eliza was the quintessential mother. My heart broke for her. Despite the hand that she had been given, she could find the beauty in what she does have-her children. Certain scenes with Eliza could be tough to read, particularly when she is trying desperately to find a way to provide for her children in a time when women were not encouraged to work outside the home.  She is very dependent on Martin, but he has detached himself from his Coal Creek family and it seems they’re all better off without him.

Both women share the same struggle in trying to go against their own societal standards, all in the name of family. Even in my own moments of having other things I needed to do, I kept coming back to When I Last Saw You, eager to discover where it was headed and ultimately, how it would end. Would Margaret Rose find her siblings? Would Eliza find a way to break free from Martin? It was another great experience by Bette Lee Crosby, a well-deserved five-star read!

Thanks to Bette Lee Crosby for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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