Somewhere Still

Written by Denitta Ward
Review by Patricia O'Reilly

This is an intriguing Cinderella-style story set in 1920s Kansas. The city is on the cusp of radical change, but it is divided by class and colour.

Jean Ball and her terminally ill mother live on the edge of poverty in an apartment block with caring people of mixed nationalities. Jean lands a job as an elevator operator at the Empire Hotel owned by the Whitcomb family. She catches the fancy of Elden Whitcomb, heir to the Whitcomb millions, and begins a relationship that opens her eyes to fine dining and charge accounts as well as fast cars, booze, jazz and speakeasies. They grow close, and he is enchanted with her honesty and simplicity.

When Jean’s mother dies, she is desolate, but her neighbours rally around, and she is taken under the wing of Mrs Parker, one of the city’s influential do-gooders. Her husband handles the Whitcomb family’s legal affairs. When Jean becomes pregnant, it’s the beginning of the revelation of a series of powerful secrets. Mrs Whitcomb, ashamed of her background, grows fonder of gin, and Mr Whitcomb’s affair with a chambermaid has far-reaching consequences, but they unite in their determination to break up Elden and Jean.

This is a deep and complex story with credible characters that pull at the heartstrings. Half way through, I began to wonder how it could end. Ward’s final pages did not disappoint. The only disappointment for me is the cover, catching though it is: the illustration is of a mature-looking couple, not teenagers, as Jean and Elden are.