Annie Laura’s Gift

Written by Milinda Jay
Review by B. J. Sedlock

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.