My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: The Practice House by Laura McNeal

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

Nineteen-year-old Aldine McKenna is stuck at home with her sister and aunt in a Scottish village in 1929 when two Mormon missionaries ring the doorbell. Aldine’s sister converts and moves to America to marry, and Aldine follows, hoping to find the life she’s meant to lead and the person she’s meant to love.
In New York, Aldine answers an ad soliciting a teacher for a one-room schoolhouse in a place she can’t possibly imagine: drought-stricken Kansas. She arrives as farms on the Great Plains have begun to fail and schools are going bankrupt, unable to pay or house new teachers. With no money and too much pride to turn back, she lives uneasily with the family of Ansel Price—the charming, optimistic man who placed the ad—and his family responds to her with kind curiosity, suspicion, and, most dangerously, love. Just as she’s settling into her strange new life, a storm forces unspoken thoughts to the surface that will forever alter the course of their lives.

The Practice House, by Laura McNeal, is essentially about people creating their sense of home.  For some, the landscape creates that feeling of belonging.  For others, being near family makes them feel safe.  In this book, I got completely immersed in depression-era Kansas, and California, and how differently people lived at that time.  It swept me away!

What I Liked:
The book mainly takes place in Kansas and in California in the early 1930's.  I loved the author's details.  Even though, intellectually, I know that there was little technology at that time, it really hit me how differently people lived.  Many people in the 1930's didn't even have telephones!  Letters took weeks, or sometimes months, to be delivered.  Children, especially in rural areas, went to school sporadically.  Medicine was also rather primitive and many never went to a doctor in their entire lives.

I was also struck by how the characters ate.  This was during the depression, so many people in the Midwest went hungry if they didn't have a cellar of preserved food to rely on in the winter.  Contrasting this with California, where food could be grown year-round, and the west coast became a dreamland for many.  Perhaps that is why so many people migrated to the state when America's farmland evolved into the dust bowl.

Aldine is a restless teen living in Scotland.  With her parents dead, she and her sister seem stuck to live a dreary life as spinsters with their aunt.  A chance knock on the door by two young Morman missionaries changes everything, and leads Aldine to follow her sister to America.

I liked Aldine but she was certainly no saint.  I think she was so desperate to belong to a family that she willfully ignored how her actions affected others. But I did admire her determination to fix her own problems.  She didn't try to excuse her behavior or willfully try to manipulate the men in her life.

Clare (short for Clarence) is the son in the Kansas family who is infatuated with Aldine.  I liked he could see clearly what was happening in his house (I'm being vague so as not to reveal spoilers).  He was also so stoic when things get difficult.  Through it all, he remained loving to his family.

Charlotte and her mother Ellie are both survivors who find ways to create the lives they want, despite their circumstances.  Although sometimes, they were hard to like (particularly Charlotte's pettiness towards Aldine), each of them made a conscious choice to find a way to get what was important to them.  For Charlotte, it was the need to get married to be an adult.  For Ellie, it was to go to California to be near her sister and find a way to be financially independent.

Themes of Home:
Throughout this book, there was a theme of what home means.  Is it financial security?  The freedom to be your own boss?  Being near family?  I think that is why this book has this name, The Practice House.  Each character is practicing ways to create their own sense of home and belonging.  Since it is different for each person, I can't judge many of their actions.  And while I may not agree with some of their choices,  I can understand the deep need to belong.

What I Didn't Like:
I really didn't like Ansel, the father of the family who Aldine lives with.  I found him to be selfish and willfully ignorant of his family's suffering.  He is so tied to the land that he doesn't seem too concerned that his wife and children don't have enough to eat.  And he resents his wife asking her father for money to help them.  As much as I understood that he felt connected to his farm, when you become a parent, everything should become secondary to the well-being of your children.

I am not criticizing the writing of this character.  In fact, I think it was very well written.  I just hated how Ansel treated his family, and Aldine.





Release Date:  April 1st, 2017

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Source:  Borrowed from a friend (thank you, Natasha)

Format:  Paperback book

Recommendation:  A sweeping historical fiction, this would make a fantastic book club selection.

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