Guarding What Remains
Teddy’s incessant barking alerts Eleanor Cruthers to possible danger, but she can’t convince anyone in her family of eight to investigate. While they tend their fields, a suspicious fire sweeps through the house and barn. With everything gone, including Teddy, the 10-year-old blames herself for the losses, a guilt that only deepens when the family has no choice but to move west from Idaho to Spokane, where her aunt lives. The farm is all Eleanor has known. She wants to rebuild, but they can’t. Her father reassures her that this is a new adventure, a chance to try a new way of living, but it’s 1931. Businesses have shuttered. No one is hiring. Everyone wants them to go home, including her aunt. Instead of a sturdy house, warm clothing, and good food, the Cruthers are forced to live in a shantytown, a dangerous place for children and women left alone where desperate men who ride the rails prey.
Loss is life-altering, which Smith deftly demonstrates as readers experience a gamut of emotions from despair to hope as this story progresses through the first half of the Great Depression. By setting the story in Washington, instead of California, she demonstrates the devastating reach of the economic downturn. While there is no answer to why God permits these experiences, each character grows and changes in different ways, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The predicaments they face – hunger, disease, harassment, greed, intolerance, mental illness, brutal cold, tragic accidents – are realistic and haunting. Despite these adversities, this historical novel is more than a struggle to survive. It is a story of love, redemption, and resilience and readers will readily identify with the experiences the characters face.