This is an inspiring story that begins in 1835 about the rebirth of two damaged women.
Susannah Fraser, 23, is a woman living in wealthy circumstances in Buffalo, New York with a cruel husband who beats her. After the fingers in her hand are broken, a nun in the area, Sister Mary Genevieve, offers to help her escape. The sister knows of a refuge on Mackinac Island in the Michigan Territory, and arranges for Susannah to sneak out and be transported there.
Once in Mackinac, Susannah, going by the pseudonym “Miss Dove,” is taken in by the widowed Magdelaine Fonteneau, 46, who runs a successful business and lives alone in a large house with her son, Jean-Henri, and Esmee, her talented and resourceful housekeeper.
Adjustment is difficult for Susannah. She loves it on the island, but she has never experienced making her own decisions or taking her own life in her hands: first she was a daughter, directed by her father, and then she was a wife, with a husband who controlled each minute of her day. Independence is terrifying for her.
Magdelaine has her own demons to overcome; she lost most of her family, and steadfastly refuses to get close to anyone again, even her own son. The two women unexpectedly find they have much in common, but each must be willing to let go of her defenses to be become truly free.
Discussion: The author based her story on two historical figures. One was Magdelaine LaFramboise, who, like the fictional Magdelaine, took over her husband’s fur-trading business after his death and became very successful. The second was Benjamin Rathbun who was a notorious and corrupt builder in Buffalo in the same time period.
It is especially interesting to read about what life for the real Magdelaine may have been like from the author’s reconstruction of her circumstances.
Evaluation: The plot elements are fairly predictable and the characters sometimes a bit too caricatured or given to clichéd dialogue, but that doesn’t detract from the basic charm of this warm-hearted story.
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a Penguin Random House Company, 2014