Saturday, May 12, 2007

Book Review: When the Bluebonnets Come

Author: John J. Dwyer
Publisher: Bluebonnet Press
ISBN: 978-0-9768224-1-7

Young Katie Shanahan’s life is idyllic until the day her father sets out in search of a rabid dog and encounters several men discussing a mysterious business deal. Upon spying him, the men assure him that their business venture will bring plenty of jobs for folks in Cotton Patch, Texas. At a town meeting a few days later, the men reveal their plans to establish a casino, race track and “Family Entertainment Complex” on the outskirts of town. Katie’s father, Ethan, and several other ministers immediately form a coalition to oppose the proposal, which is supported by several members of the town council. As the town of Cotton Patch grows increasingly divided, tempers flare, loyalties are strained and broken, and violence ensues. As Katie reveals in her narrative, these events have permanent, devastating effects on her and her family.

When the Bluebonnets Come is a beautifully written, enchanting story. Dwyer tells it from the perspective of a young girl and adopts a very effective Texan voice throughout the narrative. His understanding and love of Texas culture are obvious and his portrayal of the small-town distrust of the big-city folks from Dallas rings true. Even though the story unfolds more or less chronologically, the reader initially may find the juxtaposition of some scenes startling. The lack of smooth transitions between chapters and the occasional disjointedness of the narrative enhance the book’s character as a series of remembrances rather than a formal, scholarly recounting of events. The relationships between all of the scenes and characters become clear throughout the book and the disjointed feeling dissipates after the first few chapters.

Dwyer develops his characters expertly. His heroes have flaws that have significant, sometimes tragic, consequences. They are far from perfect, yet they are always amiable. Some of the villains also are quite likeable; they are not simply evil rogues who merit only the reader’s contempt. Heroes and scoundrels alike are people with whom the reader can identify and sympathize. The plot and subplots flow together nicely and are cleverly integrated by the end of the book. The story is well paced and flows smoothly and evenly, like a gentle, lazy river. This is not a story that hurtles at breakneck, adrenaline-pumping speed. It is, rather, a story that invites the reader to quietly enter another time and place that has its own unique tempo.

When the Bluebonnets Come is appropriate for readers of any age from middle school through adulthood. There is no profanity or overt sexuality and the infrequent violence is rendered tastefully. Readers who enjoyed David Baldacci’s lovely story about rural Virginia, Wish You Well, will also enjoy this book.

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