Title: Lena’s Hope
Author: Mary Lou Cheatham
Genre: Historical Fiction
Lena Harvey has big dreams. She’s a bright girl who longs to break away from her family’s farm and get a high school education so that she can become a midwife. More than that, she dreams of becoming a hospital-trained nurse. But life doesn’t go the way she planned.
In a time where life was hard and choices were few, especially for women, Lena never gave up. Readers will learn about resiliency and strength in this coming-of-age historical fiction novel set in early 1900’s rural America.
In Lena’s words, “I didn’t get through the ninth grade, but I’ll be a student until I die.” Right from the beginning, this sentiment resonated and established Lena as a strong protagonist with heart and spirit. She grew up in a time where choices were nearly non-existent for women, especially women who came from low-income, rural farming families. Despite the harsh realities of her situation, she continued to want more for herself. It was inspiring to witness Lena recognize the areas in which she could make an impact, first with her dream of becoming a trained hospital nurse, and later as she was raising her children.
The reality of Lena’s situation was as enlightening as it was disheartening. She had an enormous amount of spirit and drive to create what she wanted out of life. She was ready to do whatever it took to advocate for herself, and readers will never doubt her willingness to put in the work. Despite this, it was the men in her life who made the decisions, and she only had so much control over her future. In today’s twenty-first century world, girls are taught that they can be anything they want to be. It will be enlightening for female readers to witness this alternate reality and recognize the monumental changes that have occurred for women over the decades. It is women of spirit and drive, like Lena, who have paved the way for women today.
The narration style was a bit confusing, at first, as it was not made clear from the beginning that it was Lena’s granddaughter, Casey, who was the person reading Lena’s diary. There were also some chapters where Lena had written down the story several years after it actually happened, which added to the confusion. It took several chapters for the narration style to become clear, but it did straighten itself out toward the middle of the book. Additionally, Casey did not seem like she was an important figure. The final Author’s Notes that listed the women in Casey’s direct line was a bit confusing still, as she had little to no involvement in the story.
Lena’s Hope can be read as a stand-alone novel, and Mary Lou Cheatham’s Courage is a Redhead is a follow-up book about Joe, Lena’s favorite brother, which also contains more of Lena’s story.
Lena’s Hope mixes Lena’s frank manner of speech with poignant imagery to create an impactful novel about strength and resilience. Mary Lou Cheatham has provided readers with a story about learning to make the most out of your life, whatever it may be.
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