Where Dandelions Bloom

Written by Tara Johnson
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

Johnson’s well-crafted Civil War Christian historical romance novel, following on the heels of Engraved on the Heart, opens in 1861 as the young Gabe Avery, aspiring daguerreotype photographer, meets Mathew Brady, who has recently been engaged to shoot scenes taking place on the Civil War battlefields. After Brady recognizes Gabe’s talent, he sends him off to war. In the meantime, the young soldier, Thomas Turner (secretly the young girl Cassie Hendricks) poses for one of Gabe’s photographs, and from then on, she and Gabe become battlefield comrades as the demands of war pull them both into the skirmishes that follow. Gabe and Thomas (Cassie) must meet their own challenge as the photographic acumen of the young Gabe and the military prowess of Thomas Turner are on the line. The reader soon discovers that Cassie is disguised as a boy to escape an arranged marriage to one of her cruel father’s friends. Within the landscape of battle and the foundation of their friendship, Gabe and Thomas discover a commonality: the pain of abusive fathers and the sadness of families driven apart by madness and dysfunction. They grow together in common respect and camaraderie until a counterpoint that threatens not only their friendship but also their lives.

Johnson’s use of deep point-of-view provides the reader a window into the mind and heart of not only Thomas (Cassie) but also Gabe as they endure the battles and near-death experiences that lend authenticity to an anything-but-normal romance. The slow and steady path toward the revelation of Cassie’s true identity as a girl is handled in a realistic manner with plenty of battle scene detail, and the reader comes to understand the motivation which propelled young women of the time to disguise themselves as men and take up arms rather than face the social dead-ends of their sex and class in Civil War America. An uplifting and earnest novel to read in times when heroism and courage are not always represented in our media.