A Fragile Design

Written by Judith Miller Tracie Peterson
Review by Teresa Basinski Eckford

In March of 1831, reluctant Shaker Arabella Newberry decides to run away from the Society of Believers, eager to make a new life for herself. With her friend Daughtie, she travels to Lowell, Massachusetts, to work in the mill industry. Soon she is organizing education for the mill girls and fighting for access to a local library run by men.

While the main plot of this book is interesting, unfortunately the execution leaves much to be desired. The prose and narrative are stiff. All the characters speak with one of two voices, Yankee or Irish. Bella herself is rather a prig, with little regard for differing opinions. Worse, she regresses from a brave young woman to a stupid one, venturing out into the night when she knows women have been disappearing after dark. Her hero, Taylor, is not much better. Arrogant, domineering and vain, it is not hard to understand why he is single, though apparently all women love him. Some characters are quite charming, while others are mere caricatures. I also found the religious subtext to be heavy-handed. That said, the authors have crafted a well-paced story that reflects the challenges and atmosphere of early 19th century life in New England, especially the plight of the Irish immigrants, who are treated as almost sub-human.