Lemons In The Garden of Love: A Novel

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This novel offers an intriguing plotline: a young woman in 1977 researches her great-aunt’s involvement in suffragism and birth control in the early part of the century. And when I learned that half of the book’s earnings go to support Planned Parenthood, an organization I greatly admire, well, I was all in and read every word over a few days.

Cassie is a graduate student, searching for the right material for her PhD dissertation in the archives of Smith College’s library. There, she discovers a treasure trove of political cartoons and diaries written by her great-aunt Kate. Soon, Cassie is immersed in reading the diary—whenever she can steal a minute away from her controlling mother’s efforts to organize a wedding for Cassie’s secretly pregnant sister. In Massachusetts, Cassie is surrounded by Reed women: her widowed grandmother, aunts, great-aunts, as well as friends who gather for the festivities. Also along are Cassie’s husband and her former boyfriend. (You can guess who she’ll end up with…)

Over the course of the wedding weekend, Cassie realizes that she wants to alter her roles as dutiful daughter and dependent wife. Learning she’s pregnant only fuels her desire to change her life, and reading her ancestor’s accounts of the early days of feminism helps guide her decisions.

The author has a background in women’s history archives, and this shows—particularly in the diary entries, which often read as if they were plucked from historical documents or news accounts. I found Kate’s letters to and from her husband to be moving and much better written—for they were taken nearly verbatim from letters written by the actual persons upon whom the novel is based. Several of the original cartoons are also included, which were a pleasure to see.

Dialogue, of which there is plenty, is not the author’s strong suit. Characters interrogate one another with question after question. They over-explain to each other as a way of informing readers about a historical point, such as the ERA. Despite the novel’s attention to detail, focus was often on showing what characters did rather than how they felt. Although the word “passionate” was frequently applied to Cassie, her feelings were rarely described. Perhaps because, as the grandmother says, Reed women are “driven by what we think, not by what we feel.” And that was a shame because the subjects addressed in this feminist novel are important and fully capable of evoking strong feelings in characters and in readers: women’s rights, self-determination, pregnancy, loss, abortion, and more.

Nonetheless, this book will be of interest to readers eager to learn more about women’s lives both in the 1970s and in the 1920s.

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Star Count 3.5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 238 pages
Publisher She Writes Press
Publish Date 11-May-2021
ISBN 9781647420482
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue August 2022
Category Historical Fiction