Finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award.
In 1904, in Wichita, Kansas, Mallie gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Juanita (after a Spanish novel) and Wildrose (for "the most beautiful of the flowers"). So began the long life of Juanita Wildrose, who lived, vividly, every ounce and minute of her one hundred and two years. And who died, inquiring of us in the room, "Where's my mother?" Juanita, in her wonderful voice, tells the story of the little family's moving from Wichita to Elk Creek, Texas County, Missouri, to an unseen piece of land bereft of a promised house, to clear it of rocks and enough trees to grow food. Mark, Elizabeth, and Ruth are born, Papa orders newspapers and prays too long before meals, Mama will see to it that each of her children leaves the farm in order to go to school, and is inexplicably separated from the love of God. Juanita is twelve when she leaves. This is also the story of Juanita's mother and of the women who help her out after Juanita leaves home, and of a young man "with the sweetest smile I ever saw."
Juanita Wildrose is just wonderful—a heap of treasure out of a living past. —Alice Munro
After an astonishing 102 full years, Juanita Wildrose Emack Thompson died in 2006. And well before that, her daughter, Susan Downe, a, 81-year-old retired psychotherapist and poet, began (the Ontarian explained in an interview) note-taking: "All I wanted to do was write down the stories so that they wouldn't get lost; they were interesting to me. She and my father knew each other for so many years, and as my generation - their children - were growing up, we heard these stories all the time."
Downe later opted for the book's distinct narrating style, which foregrounds her mother's voice: "I didn't have any trouble hearing her voice in my head, and it was wonderful. In a way it sounds strange but it was really nice to spend time with her when she was young." Yet Juanita Wildrose intentionally blurs the lines between verbatim quotation, accurate and inaccurate memories, creative reconstruction, and pure invention. It contains poems, too, and letters dating as far back as the Civil War, and their true authorship or place of origin remain tantalizingly undisclosed. Exemplary: thoughtful and intriguing example of artful, elegant, and deeply affecting storytelling that deserve a wide audience. - Brett Josef Grubisic
"A heap of treasure" perfectly describes Downe’s intriguing tale as she delves not only into her mother’s life, but into lives of an earlier generation caught up in the fraught years of the American Civil War. The photos, letters and family documents Downe used were found safely stored in the “ancestor’s drawer” of Juanita Wildrose’s desk. This material, combined with skeins of history and snippets of poetry, run like a rich vein through Downe’s work. -Nancy Schiefer
The strength here is the voice: evocative, appropriate to Juanita’s age, and rich in detail, it has that gripping effect of eavesdropping on a life. -Jared Bland
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