by Janette Oke
Unconditional Recommendation: When Marty’s husband dies suddenly and she’s forced to marry a stranger to survive in the West, she comes to learn that love between neighbors, man and woman, and even God sometimes comes softly.
Genre: Historical Christian Romance
This book has received a lot of attention since its first publication in 1979. Not only does it start a book series, but it also inspired a Hallmark movie series and is credited with establishing the inspirational fiction genre. I’d say that it’s humbly worth all that praise and it’s become one of my favorite books—I read it multiple times a year!
Marty and Clem set out for the pioneer West full of hopes and dreams. They would stake a claim of their own on the new frontier, and build a home for themselves and their family.
But just after they’d arrived and Clem had chosen the perfect setting for their new home, an accident took his life…leaving Marty alone and pregnant. Then, on the day of his funeral, Clark Davis came along…and asked Marty to marry him! Marty was infuriated—but with no money, no shelter, and a baby on the way, what choice did she have? Besides, Clark said he only wanted her to be a mama to his baby girl, Missie. If Marty was still unhappy come spring, he would pay for her ticket back East. Determined not to be a burden to Clark, and intending only to earn her keep. Marty threw herself into her new role of “Mama.” But she had never been anyone’s mama before, and she didn’t even know how to keep a house! If only she could do right by this lonely man and his daughter just long enough to earn her train fare back home…
Loss – The reader experiences a pregnant woman’s grieving process from the beginning. The story opens with Clem’s funeral and Marty numb with grief. Once she marries Clark (out of necessity) in time she sees past her own suffering to Clark’s quiet grief over losing his wife and Missie’s mother. Empathy grows to replace bitterness in Marty. The two respect what each other lost and work together to move on through the course of everyday life on a homestead.
Love – When Marty fell in love with Clem, it was fast and passionate and she believed that’s what love is like. Marrying Clark and befriending their neighbor Ma Graham, opens up Marty’s eyes to the possibility that love can come softly without pomp and fanfare. It’s such a great lesson about what love can be and perhaps reading it here can defy the stereotype of passionate love being the only true or worthwhile kind of love between a man and a woman.
This is a morally good book and a spiritually good one as well. The spiritual aspects of the book are gently handled. Clark is presumed to be a saved man and each day he prays before a meal sincerely and in such a way that Marty has never known before. She comes to think of God as “Clark’s God.” Clark also reads the Bible aloud and Marty’s interest increases as she settles in to her new life. She hears Clark read the Christmas story and asks him to read it again to her so she can ponder it. She learns and believes for herself that Jesus came and died for her sins during an Easter sermon from a visiting preacher and is joyful to at last know “Clark’s God.” I thought the salvation scene was Biblically accurate, though perhaps lacking some detail.
In the west, homesteaders rely heavily on their neighbors during hardship or tragedy and the people in this book value one another. They are, of course, people who come with a slew of personalities, shortcomings and blatant sins. Janette Oke doesn’t hide the evil in people but she doesn’t make it the focus either. Clark and Marty have a variety of neighbors who they help and who help them and it’s refreshing to read of the community who, for the most part, value and show kindness to one another.
The reason this book has become a favorite that I read over and over again is because of the experience of the story. It’s like going camping only with more heart. The story takes you to a time when there was joy found in simple everyday things such as vegetables growing in the garden, a home-cooked meal, the beauty of the land, the gathering of neighbors to process meat or make soap, and quiet nights in a comfortable home with good people. I find this book calming and peaceful in its portrayal of day to day life on the homestead. And the story is told in a plain and simple fashion—no frills and only mild action.
I found nothing in this book that wouldn’t be appropriate for any person regardless of age or constitution. If you’re looking for an easy-paced Christian historical fiction then I’m sure this is the book for you. Happy reading!