First, I'll get the bragging out of the way. I'm proud of myself for putting aside my oft-repeated bias about "historical fiction".
Because if I hadn't done so, West With Giraffes could easily have slipped by which would mean, in turn, I wouldn't now be recommending it - without reservation - to all of you. What a disservice that would have been to Lynda Rutledge's 2021 treasure. How I wish my blog had more reach; her novel deserves nothing less.
I'll begin with the pitch-perfect first-person voice of seventeen-year-old Dust Bowl orphan Woodrow Wilson Nickel. "Not having much practice with thanks, I didn't know what to say." Not hooked yet? Try this: "I straightened my spine and with the hubris of a selfish boy with nothing behind and everything ahead I said 'I can do it'." The "it" in that sentence is driving a truck from New York to San Diego in 1938. Cargo? Two adult giraffes. Did I mention Woodrow has no driver's license?
A lifetime of reading has rewarded me with some memorable insights. This book is rich with gems like this one: "It's a strange thing how you can spend years with some folks and never know them, yet, with others, you only need a handful of days to know them far beyond years." Even out of context, that straightforward sentence rings true. In context, near the end of this quest, it is earned wisdom with the power to transform an attentive reader.
Other strengths: Superb use of period detail to catapult a reader into 1938 America, a solid moral core, fully-realized characters that will linger, an intriguing but not intrusive architecture. And, on page 339 a lengthy passage about the importance and enduring power of stories I copied word-for-word to ensure I can re-capture the warm glow of this novel anytime in the future that I wish. Instead of including that passage here, let me suggest you set aside some hours for West With Giraffes and discover it on your own. I'm confident you will thank me. Special nod to the three widely disparate readers who recommended this winner to me, all three recommendations coming within the space of two days. I'm convinced that was the universe's way of telling me to discard that nasty bias of mine.
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