Annie Laura’s Gift
The preface says that the mostly fictional story is based on Jay’s great-grandmother. It’s set in 1890s Florida, with flashbacks to German immigrant Annie Laura Brock’s childhood.
As a child, Annie Laura is partially responsible for the death of Benjamin Blakely’s mother, through forgetting to pass on a message, and Benjamin becomes her enemy. As young adults, Benjamin covets the Brock family land, while Annie Laura forms an attachment to Benjamin’s half-brother Morris, a doctor. She also has struggles at home, with an artisan father who is dismissive of farming, a job he considers beneath his family. Annie Laura can’t convince him that that attitude should have been left behind in the old country. In the aftermath of a disastrous fire in the town, Annie Laura takes a shortcut through the woods, and Benjamin assaults and rapes her in a lonely spot. Her subsequent pregnancy hinders her efforts to save the family’s land from Benjamin, and threatens to make her an outcast from society.
While I appreciated the Florida setting and liked Annie Laura as a character, I didn’t enjoy this volume in the series as much as Annie Laura’s Triumph (2016). The flashback sequences got confusing; at one point, the chapter is labeled “Fall 1898” but the next line says “Falling Waters, 1888,” leaving me to wonder which year that section of the story was taking place. A kind of macguffin is part of the plot, a packet of Blakely family papers Annie Laura acquires by accident that she should give to Morris, but time and again she finds not-so-convincing reasons to keep them. I wished a “cast of characters” list had been provided. If you enjoyed Annie Laura’s Triumph, you will want to read this prequel, but I can only lukewarmly recommend it on its own.