“The summer I turned twelve, I tried to kill myself.” With an opening like that, I expected great things from WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER. I was not disappointed.
Bethany Quinn was determined to escape Peaks, Iowa, as soon as she could. So, after graduating from high school, she ran from her trailer-park life and didn’t look back, creating a successful life for herself in Chicago. When the book opens, she is an up-and-coming architect and even has a serious boyfriend, who recently asked her to move in with him.
"WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER is a multifaceted gem. Debut author Katie Ganshert explores several different relationships, each of which are handled with sensitivity and insight."
Then her world is turned upside down when her mother calls to inform her that the husband of Bethany’s childhood friend, Robin Price, has had a brain aneurysm and is in a coma. Bethany is shocked, but she hasn’t talked to Robin in years, so she doesn’t see how she can help. It’s only when her mother calls again a few hours later to let her know that Bethany’s beloved Grandpa Dan has had a heart attack that she feels she has no choice but to return to Peaks.
Upon arriving at her grandfather’s farm --- the one she adored as a little girl --- Bethany meets farmhand Evan Price, who also happens to be Robin’s brother-in-law. Grandpa Dan aside, Bethany can’t stand anything or anyone in Peaks, including her own mother, and she quickly adds Evan to her “irritating people” list. After a courtesy visit to Robin, whose husband has now died, she heads back to Chicago, only to find that the company she works for is downsizing, and she is being let go.
Can life get any worse? Bethany is about to find out.
Grandpa Dan has another heart attack, and this time he doesn’t make it. Devastated, Bethany returns to Peaks. When the will is read, Bethany learns she has inherited her grandpa’s farmland, and farmhand Evan is the new owner of the farmhouse. With no interest in running a farm, she decides to sell the land and use the money to start her own architectural firm. But Evan is ready to put up a fight.
WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER is a multifaceted gem. Debut author Katie Ganshert explores several different relationships, each of which are handled with sensitivity and insight. Not only does Bethany need to deal with the aftermath of her grandpa’s death, she is also faced with the memories she’s been running from her entire life. She is forced to confront the anger she feels toward her mother and Pastor Fenton, a man whose views of God and the Bible are warped and twisted, to say the least. Her relationship with her former best friend is strained. But even in grief, Robin reaches out to Bethany in an attempt to rediscover their bond, though Bethany finds herself resisting. Bethany’s long-ago abandoned relationship with God is challenged by both Robin and Evan, whose Christianity looks quite different from the one Pastor Fenton displayed. And finally, Bethany’s relationship with Evan is put to the test as she learns how to let down the walls she’s spent so long building around her heart.
There’s not much to like about Bethany, at least for the first two-thirds of the book. Slowly, the reasons behind her behavior are made clear, but for a majority of the story, I wanted to throttle her and couldn’t understand for the life of me how Evan could even feel drawn to someone like Bethany. But, as in real life, we sometimes meet people who are difficult to like. It’s only in getting to know them more that we see they’re not “bad people,” just individuals trying to deal with the hurts and heartaches life throws their way. In Bethany’s case, I practically stood up and cheered when she finally came around.
Overall, I enjoyed this story, which is laced with a bit of humor, some “tissue moments” and a ton of food for thought. WILDFLOWERS FROM WINTER is an impressive debut novel, and I look forward to seeing what’s next for Katie Ganshert.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on July 18, 2012