Caugherty offers a Depression-era coming-of-age novel set amid the beauty of California’s Yosemite National Park.
It’s 1934, and 16-year-old Isabel Dickinson has just finished her second year of high school in San Francisco when a tragic accident takes the life of her young sister, Audrey. Life at home with her mother, in the city’s rough Tenderloin District, had already become unbearable; now, as she struggles with Audrey’s death, she asks her friend Claude DeVille to drive her to Yosemite, where her older brother, James, is working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. She flees one day before dawn, unaware that women aren’t allowed in the Cascades Camp: “She was doing it: leaving Mother, the flat, the San Francisco cold. At long last she was traveling to a beautiful, wondrous place.” After their arrival, Isabel passes out due to an excruciating migraine. She wakes the following morning in a tiny apartment above a post office that belongs to Enid Michael and her husband, Charles. Enid, a delightfully eccentric and bubbly older woman, is Yosemite’s first and, at the time, only female ranger-naturalist, while Charles is Yosemite’s assistant postmaster. At this point, Caugherty seamlessly blends fact and fiction; the Michaels are real-life historical figures, and Enid’s nemesis, Chief Naturalist Bert Harwell, did repeatedly attempt to have her removed from her position for being too unconventional. She’s the perfect mentor for Isabel, who convinces the couple to let her stay with them through the summer, earning her keep by helping Enid with her wildflower garden and typing articles the Michaels write for local publications. As Isabel gradually discovers peace, redemption, and a new life trajectory, readers are treated to a veritable encyclopedia of intriguing and informative details about the flora, fauna, and natural wonders of Yosemite. Caugherty’s love letter to the extraordinary park has a simple plot, but the breezy, conversational prose is engaging, capturing the despair of the Depression and the frustration of women struggling for equality. Isabel is a sturdy, compelling protagonist, but it’s quirky Enid who will linger in readers’ minds.
A gentle, poignant tale with nicely developed real and fictional characters.
Ad Date: today
Page Count: 286
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2023