The Springsweet, by Saundra Mitchell (fiction) – visions on the high plains

Divining for water.

Whatever the name, being able to show just where to drill a water well is an enviable talent in arid places, but not without its consequences. Who could imagine that West Glory’s “springsweet” would be a young lady escaping back-East gossip by moving to the Oklahoma Territory’s vast plains?

And Zora could scarcely have dreamed that her train trip West would bring her to a sodhouse, a nearby all-black town that reminds her of home, a barn-raising, and two unlikely suitors?

While you can read this just-published book on its own, you’ll get a fuller picture of Zora’s life and gifts by reading The Vespertine (my recommendation) first. Just can’t wait for the promised third book to see where Zora’s talent takes her!

So, do you think that dowsing really works?

Book info: The Springsweet / Saundra Mitchell. Harcourt, 2012. [author’s website] [book website] [publisher site] [book trailer]  

My Recommendation: Ever-separated from her fiancé and her cousin, Zora decides to escape the strictures of Baltimore society by heading West. How can she face friends who don’t understand her continued mourning, family members who expect her to settle for a normal life after losing Amelia’s visions and Thomas’ healing touch?

Rather than allowing seventeen-year-old Zora to marry a widower and raise his children in some log cabin, her mother arranges for her to stay with Aunt Birdie and little Louella at their homestead in the Oklahoma Territory. Rattling westward by train and coach, Zora is jolted when bandits rob the stage just a few miles from her destination, smashing the luggage, and taking the locket that Thomas gave her.

Stranded by the highwaymen in a sudden thunderstorm, Zora trudges along the muddy wagon road toward West Glory and is rescued from a night alone on the prairie by Emerson Birch. Beside his rugged cabin in his lush garden, somehow Zora knows that his well is dug in the wrong place and can see silvery shimmers in the evening darkness that tell her where he should dig for water.

Aunt Birdie welcomes her the next morning, but is openly hostile to Emerson who jumped the gun to claim his land. Life is hard for the two young women and toddler Louella in the tiny sod house, hauling water from a distant well, making soap, trying to keep their crops alive in the dry plains winds.

When dandy Theo de la Croix arrives in West Glory to teach school, Zora wonders if he’d followed her from Baltimore. One kiss at a dance couldn’t mean that much… could it? Courted by Theo, yet drawn by Emerson’s vibrant connection to the land, she begins to finds pieces of joy in the midst of her mourning.

Her gift for seeing where the earth’s secret waters hide is precious in this dry land, so she hires out as a “springsweet” to tell folks where to dig wells. Not all visions are happy ones, and soon Zora must decide whether to tell unwelcome news or to hide her talents.

But how else can the little family get enough money to get through the bitter winter ahead? Should Zora accept Theo’s offer of marriage, or sneak away to see Emerson, or just run back home to a pampered life in Baltimore?

This companion volume to The Vespertine follows Amelia’s cousin Zora as she discovers her own psychic gifts and must decide whether she can truly live with the consequences that those visions may bring. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

What do you think?

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