Lauraine Snelling,
A Dream to Follow
(Bethany House, 2001)

A Dream to Follow is a historical novel mainly about an emigrant family from Norway now in North Dakota, and partly about a young woman from a British-American family established in Minnesota. The story occurs between spring and fall 1893.

The story switches between Thorliff Bjorklund and Elizabeth Rogers. He is a young man from a farming family who yearns to attend college to become a writer, while she tries to help her father with his printing business but makes plans to become a doctor, one way or another.

Bethany House is noted for stories with religious themes and that holds true for Lauraine Snelling's story, which continues the saga of the Bjorklund families in the "Return to Red River" series. Though this is the first of hers I've read, it's obvious children try to obey their parents' wishes, and there is a comfort and a closeness in family and community that is relied on and assumed.

I did wonder at first why there were so many characters and so little explanation of who they were. If I had been following the series that probably wouldn't have been a problem, and once I realized a family-tree page at the beginning explained much, the characters settled politely into place.

Thorliff was a dutiful son, and though his stepfather did not want him to leave the farm and attend college, Thorliff's mother was inspirational in her handling of the situation, and without openly defying her husband, she encouraged Thorliff to hope.

Elizabeth was a contrast to Thorliff as an only child, in a city home with many amenities, no lack of clothing nor battling of the elements to survive. She was the most interesting character, especially in her determination to become a doctor. She was admirable in the way she was able to focus on such a nonfashionable career, by accepting the passion she had for doctoring, and recognizing her own intelligence and ability to succeed.

Thorliff and Elizabeth cross paths finally and though both seem well on their way to their goals, the conclusion is not revealed. There are many more miles for each to travel before the writer and the doctor can emerge. Snelling will likely have more to say on these characters.

I was a little bothered by how often the characters' thoughts were much more uncharitable than their words. I do believe that people of religious conviction would think more charitably about others, even in times of dissension. Some thoughts showed a lack of respect that runs contrary to the religious teachings I am familiar with. Some of these characters let their rude thoughts run loose, while they smiled sweetly to remain in good standing in the family fold. Understandably, thoughts reveal our humanness, but also our true selves.

The book is pleasant, slow-paced and wholesome. There are little lessons of Scripture in the dialogue. I am not sure for what age group this is written. I can imagine 12- and 13-year-olds being interested, as well as those who are much older, as they recall stories of family travail in the untamed land of America.

Before reading this one I'd suggest going back to the "Red River of the North" series and getting to know the Bjorklund family. I think it would bring a greater enjoyment of the characters in this novel, greater understanding of their immigrant experience, and thus fuller appreciation of the conflicts herein.

[ by Virginia MacIsaac ]
Rambles: 30 March 2002

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