Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: Like a Flower in Bloom


Siri Mitchell
Like a Flower in Bloom
By Siri Mitchell
Bethany House, December 2014

About the Book

It’s all her uncle’s fault. For years Charlotte Withersby has been free to pursue her love of plants and flowers by assisting her botanist father. But now that she’s reached the old age of twenty-two, an intrusive uncle has convinced her father that Charlotte’s future—the only proper future for a woman—is to be a wife and mother, not a scholar.

Her father is so dependent on her assistance that Charlotte believes he’ll soon change his mind . . . and then Edward Trimble shows up. A long-time botany correspondent in the South Pacific, Trimble arrives ready to step in as assistant so that Charlotte can step out into proper society—a world that baffles her with its unwritten rules, inexplicable expectations, and confounding fashion.

Things aren’t perfectly smooth between Trimble and her father, so Charlotte hatches a last gasp plan. She’ll pretend such an interest in marriage that the thought of losing her will make her father welcome her back. Only things go quickly awry, and she realizes that the one man who recognizes her intelligence is also the person she’s most angry with: Edward Trimble, her supposed rival. Suddenly juggling more suitors than she knows what to do with, Charlotte is caught in a trap of her own making. Will she have no choice but to leave her beloved flowers behind?

My Review

I’m really not a fan of the typical boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl novel. It just doesn’t do it for me if the romance is the sum of the story.

Thankfully Siri Mitchell’s stories abound in so much more, with subtle humor and laugh-out-loud moments all the more delicious because all of us have experienced similar uncomfortable situations. And her novels are just interesting. She embeds a wealth of information about a particular topic or place so organically in her stories that you can’t help being engaged by it as well as by the characters and plot. In the case of Like a Flower in Bloom, it’s botany and the popular study of it during the Victorian period in England.

Like all Ms. Mitchell’s books, this one is populated with quirky characters who add immensely to the fun: Charlotte’s vastly preoccupied father; her gruff uncle, the Admiral, who is the disgrace of the family; Miss Templeton, who becomes Charlotte’s fellow-schemer in avoiding matrimony and an unlikely friend; the mysterious Mr. Trimble who displaces Charlotte as her father’s assistant; Mr. Stansbury, who takes great pride in his stumpery; the widowed rector, an excellent preacher but miserable botanist, who loves, but struggles to manage, his 8 young children. And first of all, Charlotte herself. Ms. Mitchell makes these characters not only hilarious, but remarkably believable and endearing.

I particularly love that Charlotte is so clueless about society and social expectations. She couldn’t dissemble if her life depended on it, which leads to hysterically funny conversations with Mr. Trimble, Miss Templeton, and others. Unlike the typical young woman of society before our own progressive era, Charlotte has no interest at all in finding a husband. In fact, she’d much prefer not to have one. She wants to immerse herself in research and get her work published under her own name instead of her father’s, regardless of the fact that she’s a mere woman. She wants to be recognized and valued for her own accomplishments, a notion foreign to Victorian society.

Charlotte finally comes to a moment of crisis in which the true longing of her heart breaks through in spite of her efforts to conceal it—from others, from herself, and especially from Mr. Trimble, to whom she entirely unwillingly blurts out her anguish. It’s a moment of such profound poignancy, insight, and truth that I felt: yes, just so! And I realized, with tears welling up, that Ms. Mitchell was revealing my heart, she was speaking for . . . me! And isn’t that exactly what the finest literature does—reveal our own heart to ourselves?

I’m adding Like a Flower in Bloom to the top of Siri Mitchell’s novels that are my favorites, alongside Kissing Adrian and The Cubicle Next Door. And I highly recommend it to you.

J. M. Hochstetler
Enthralling historical fiction that brings the past alive . . . 

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