Sweet. Gentle. Engaging. Despite the desperate Depression-era circumstances of Julia, Samuel, and their two young children, who are scrabbling to make ends meet on their small Illinois farm, reading Leisha Kelly's novel KATIE'S DREAM is like relaxing into a warm bubble bath. A paradox, it might seem, when the plot line smacks of extreme poverty and challenges to be overcome. Yet, even when the plot thickens and the tension cranks up a notch or two, Kelly has a way of making the reader relax into the story, certain that faith will carry the characters they have come to love in JULIA'S HOPE and EMMA'S GIFT through this latest episode in their lives without too much harm.
The circumstances hovering over the Worthams in 1932 are potentially devastating in this installment. After his release from prison, Samuel's brother Edward seeks to lash out and hurt him and crumble the little family. Edward has in tow a six-year-old girl, Katie, the spitting image of Samuel --- and who Edward claims is Samuel's daughter by another woman. Soon, the small town of Dearing is divided over whether Samuel has a secret past that he refuses to acknowledge. The cantankerous pillar of the church, Hazel Sharpe, stirs up more trouble. And if Samuel is not Katie's father, then who is? Julia takes the small girl into her warm family circle but finds that her own inability to fully trust Samuel drives a wedge between them.
Disasters attract other disasters. Julia and Samuel continue to help the widower George Hammond and his passel of kids the next farm over at a time when they can barely feed and clothe themselves. "We struggled constantly, against weather and animals and prices and the whole economy around us," says Julia. "And I was tired of it. More tired than I'd even realized." Soon, Edward and his brother come to fisticuffs, a small boy is injured in a car accident, the family cow dies, and it seems as if there will never be quite enough food to go around. Yet, through it all, Julia and Samuel cling to their faith, steering their extended family through the stormy waters that surely must calm soon.
As she did in her earlier books, Kelly trades off changes in point of view by alternating voices in each chapter (in this book, between Samuel and Julia). The reader will likely guess the identity of Katie's father early on, and may find themselves wishing the fictional characters put two and two together a little more quickly. However, rather than lessening the enjoyment of the story, it only relaxes the tension.
The strength of Kelly's books is in her characters and her lovely prose, and this one is no exception. The character of Samuel particularly is developed here, with new insights about his past. More development is also done with the Hammond children, particularly the clumsy and seemingly not-so-clever Franky, who may be the most precocious and endearing boy in the bunch. There are well-crafted details showing the challenges of feeding a family during the Depression, including an interesting scene where a turtle is caught and butchered, and another where daylily buds are gathered as part of a meal. Another poignant scene portrays the desperation Julia feels over the killing of a single chicken to feed company --- knowing that they will lose some of their food for the winter.
Like her earlier two books in the series, KATIE'S DREAM is a delightful, comforting read, full of assurances of God's provision and love, which is sure to delight fans of Kelly's earlier books and gain her some new ones.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011