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Just when I thought Miranda's story was gritty, Joan Johnston presents Hannah's story. Hannah is 17 years old, and she's tired of the abuse she suffers at the Chicago orphanage where they've lived since the Great Chicago Fire killed her parents, and destroyed their father's legacy. Hannah decides to answer a mail-order bride advertisement, married Mr. McMurtry, and on her way to Montana with her new husband and her sisters. But the arduous wagon trail takes its toll on their small party, and Hannah's husband dies of cholera, leaving Hannah pregnant, alone, and lost in the wilds of Wyoming -- until Flint Creed finds her and rescues her.
It was time to put her girlhood dreams away. There was no handsome, dashing Prince Charming in her future, only solemn, honest, hardworking Mr. McMurtry. She felt tears well in her eyes and brushed them angrily away, Would she ever stop dreaming and hoping and wishing for something she could never have?
- p. 22
Flint has just suffered a disappointing rejection when the woman he has been diligently courting decides to marry his younger brother instead. Flint still needs a wife to help him as he establishes his cattle ranch in Wyoming, and Hannah's appearance in his life is very convenient.
It's not the best of beginnings, but Hannah and Flint are both willing to give this arrangement a try. Joan Johnston does something different with the second book of her Mail-Order Brides series, incorporating a second love story, between Flint's brother, Ransom, and Emaline -- the two are contrasting relationships: Flint and Hannah are a whirlwind marriage, whereas Ransom and Emaline went through a period of courtship. Despite having the benefit of time, they quickly realize that they still have some issues to work out. It's a wonderful reminder that there's no perfect formula for a relationship -- each one starts, progresses, and ends quite differently from one another.
There is a strange awkwardness with Flint and Ransom, considering they courted the same girl, and, now Ransom and Emaline would be married and be living in the same house as Flint and Hannah. This is what is interesting about this point in history: the very big factor that pragmatism and reality play -- there really isn't very much room for dreams and fantasy, when you are, not only battling other people for your livelihood, but also the harsh landscapes of the Wild West.
At the heart of the relationship problem is the idea of having children. Hannah is already pregnant, and she came from a big family. It was never an issue with her. But, Emaline's mother died of childbirth, and she has no intentions of going through the same ordeal. Then, to set this question against the context of the harsh life in the West, it becomes an even more difficult concern to address, but I thought Joan Johnston was able to weigh out pros and cons in the conversations her characters had with each other.
"Oh!" Hannah said. She put her hand to her belly, drawing the cloth down tight, then looked up at Emaline and smiled. "She kicked me."
Emaline couldn't help being intrigued as she watched Hannah's baby grow inside her. If Hannah had figured correctly, she was now a week shy of being seven months pregnant. She was already huge. Enaline was fascinated when she saw Hannah's stomach change shape as the baby moved, showing what appeared to be a bulge from a tiny hand or foot. "May I touch?" she asked.
- p. 287
What is impressive about Wyoming Bride is how distinct the pairs are -- Joan Johnston does a good job of giving an individual voice to her main characters and secondary characters. I usually get confused when there are "too many voices" in a story, but I didn't mind this one at all.
Flint's greater problem had to do with rumors of his cowardice during the war, and him continuing to struggle to find his place in Wyoming. This one was tricky -- it was Flint's word against everybody, and his only ally happens to be his own brother. It becomes such an important issue when Flint confronts Ashley Patton, a cattle baron who has been stealing and rebranding cattle from smaller farms. Flint's honor and credibility are called into question when he makes the accusation.
Wyoming Bride is such a broad, and sweeping, and total experience of the hardships of life in the West, but it also highlights the simple joys that these brave, and intrepid settlers experience as they work to make new lives for themselves.
Wyoming Bride is the second book in Joan Johnston's Mail Order Bride series, a sub-series of her Bitter Creek stories, and focuses on the lives of the Wentworth Children. To find out more about Joan Johnston and her books, click below: