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Saturday, February 5, 2011

5 Stars for The Spruce Gum Box by Elizabeth Egerton Wilder

Heart-warming, sensitive, and beautifully told  

I was first attracted to this work of historical fiction by the author Elizabeth Egerton Wilder through a post on Scott Nicholson’s blog as well as by the title. I have never heard of a spruce gum box and I wanted to know what it was. Just goes to show how a good and somewhat mysterious title can draw you into a book! The fact that the author published her debut novel fairly late in life added to my curiosity, since I am in a somewhat similar position. I started to read and was instantly drawn into this wonderful story.

The Spruce Gum Box deals with a chapter in American history I knew nothing about. It takes place during the early nineteenth century in Maine at the time of the border dispute between Great Britain and the United States. A lot of research must have gone into this book. The reader gets a vivid picture of the struggle of the people who were trying to carve out a life for themselves along the Aroostook River as well as of the relationship between the pioneers and the native people, the Micmac Indians.

The heart of the story, however, is the destiny of individual people, their hopes, loves, fears, and hardships. It tells of the forbidden love between young Jed and Addie, of the tender love between Jed and his son, Benjie, as well as the friendship between Jed, Benjie and the native people of the Micmac tribe—Jacob, Nuga, Hanna, Birdie, Bear, Nettie. It is also a tale about community, the importance of belonging and adjusting, of overcoming prejudice.

The characters are vividly portrayed and convincing and they stayed with me long after I finished reading the novel. These are complex but lovable people and their fate touched me. It’s been a while since I cried reading a book, but my eyes misted over more than once while I read this novel.

This is a work with a leisurely pace, one that lets you enjoy and savor the natural beauty of the landscape, leads you slowly into the thoughts and feelings of the characters, and explores their everyday and often harsh but meaningful lives. Leisurely, however, does not mean boring. On the contrary, each event, each chapter drives the story forward and makes you want to turn the page (or flip the page, in the case of an eReader).

I can only recommend this heart-warming and sensitive tale and if you want to know what a spruce gum box is (and I bet you don’t know), READ IT!

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