Sunday, December 2, 2012

Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund

Some say the logging industry of 1880's northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota built the expanding cities of the entire midwest and beyond.  Dense virgin forests disappeared virtually overnight, leaving lands that were ill suited for farming.  It wasn't until reforestation projects of the twentieth century that these lands became the "up north" that I and thousands of others love so much.
Author Jody Hedlund rightly points out that historical societies in both Wisconsin and Michigan try to capture the important impact this industry made over its short life, but these displays and "camp replicas" are a "white-washed version" of the true wild logging towns that sprang up.  As Hedlund depicts in her new novel Unending Devotion, countless individual lives were as devastated as the landscape.  Gambling and alcohol abuse was rampant and the brothels that littered the towns were what we would call today places of "white slavery" as young girls were enticed north with the promise of genteel jobs in hotels and eating establishments.  What they found instead were lives as prostitutes trying to pay off never ending debts to the brothel owner.

Our novel opens as idealistic Lily Young helps a brothel girl escape in the wee hours of the morning as the drunken shanty boys sleep off their drunkeness.  This is not the first time Lily has risked her own safety to save another, and she promises that she will continue doing so until she finally finds her own teenage sister who Lily believes has become trapped in a life of prostitution at an unknown logging town. Orphaned at a young age, Lily has fought to keep her and her younger sister together.  Months before, she had left Daisy with a family while she earned some money to set up a housefhold of their own.  Shortly thereafter, her sister disappeared. Now,  Lily travels with her adoptive guardian Oren, who photographs the shanty boys. Oren's presence provides the protection that Lily needs as she moves from camp to camp.  When the pair arrives in Harrison, Michigan it appears that Lily's plans to rescue as many girls as she can may come to an abrupt end.  There she meets Connell McCormick, a lumber baron's son who is intent on winning his father's favor, but as he becomes involved with Lily he begins to wonder if the "blind eye" the bosses have turned toward the "dark side" of town might be a mistake.  While he is not ready to take a stand, he does know that he must protect Lily from harm and her own risk-taking.  Even doing that puts him on a collision course with James Carr, king pin of all illicit activities.

At first I thought that author Hedlund had created a melodrama with a heavy hand of "lily-white" thinking vs. the activities of a dark, dark villian.  I could almost imagine Carr capturing Lily and pinning her to a train track, with Connell, armed with his knife, arriving in the nick of time.   Then I read the afterward that explained that James Carr was a historical figure who did recruit young girls into life at his brothels through treachery.  In fact, he was tried for the murder of one young girl who refused his demands.  During that time period women spoke out for temperance and women's rights across the country, so I am sure that there were strong willed women like Lily creating their own movements against loose living and immorality.  I don't want to reveal too much about the novel, but I will say that the inevitable showdown between Carr and Connell is more skillfully written that my imaginary villain-heroine- hero scene.   I also applaud Hedlund for her portrayal of Daisy, a true "prodigal" sister.   If you like historical fiction or if you've read stories with western settings, give this novel a read.  The Michigan northwoods will deliver danger, romance, and a tale of right vs. wrong.  To read what others have said about this novel and Jody Hedlund's other titles, as well as read her blog, go to her website.  I received a copy of this book from Bethany House for my honest review.  I was not compensated in any way, nor was I required to write a positive review.

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