A Life Once Dreamed

Written by Rachel Fordham
Review by Martha Hoffman

Agnes Pratt has gotten used to her work as a teacher in 1880s Dakota Territory. She fled a pampered life – and her childhood sweetheart – back in Buffalo when she learned an uncomfortable fact about her own history. But in the aptly named town of Penance, she has found new meaning and new friends, and a classroom of children to focus on. She has pretty much given up on having a family of her own, both because she left her love behind and because getting married would mean giving up her job.

Into this meaningful but somewhat lonely life walks the new town doctor, who turns out to be the man she left behind, James Harris. It’s clear they still have feelings for each other, but Agnes’s secret is not that easy for her to unpack. She sees herself as protecting him by not telling him the truth.

As happens, the town teacher and town doctor are thrown together in a variety of circumstances, both everyday and dramatic. The obstacles to their relationship are a bit contrived, and the character brought in to supply an opposing love interest never has a decent chance to woo the reader. The author fleshes out the frontier town, where there’s a brothel above the saloon, miners live in the hills on the edge of town and polite society, and everyone knows a bit of everyone else’s business. In fact, a growing circle of people know Agnes’s story, but it’s the children who ask the questions that keep her on her toes and one in particular who helps her find heart.