“Take care o’ the wee ones. Don’t let them out o’ yer sight. D’ya hear me lass?”
“I hear ya, Da,” Maelle gasped.
These are the last words Da and Maelle ever speak to each other. That night a tenement fire takes the life of both her parents. Maelle Gallagher, her little brother Mattie and baby sister Molly are quickly shipped from New York to Missouri. There, much to Maelle’s dismay, they are claimed by different families. And thus begins her search to find the siblings she feels she’s abandoned so she can keep her promise to her father.
In Kim Vogel Sawyer's My Heart Remembers, we follow the lives of the three children from New York in 1886 to Shay’s Ford Missouri, where most of the story takes place seventeen years later, in 1903.
Sawyer succeeds in portraying three very different, believable and complex characters. The story is rewarding character-wise as each shows their stuff when put in the vise of circumstances. What will bring Maelle to confront the ghosts of her past that keep her dressed in trousers and men’s shirts? Will Jenks’ presence force Matt to go on the lam yet again? Will Molly ever get off her high horse of breeding and convention? Though Maelle and Mattie were my favorites, bossy Molly did grow on me so that by the end I applauded with the rest when lawyer Harders comes through for her.
The plot is a braiding of the experiences and lives of the siblings. When, independent of the others, each finds their way to Shay’s Ford, I knew their meeting was inevitable. Still Sawyer held my interest by keeping her characters in hot water. Something is always going awry for one or the other with scarcely a peaceful interlude, and she kept me in anticipation of the big reveal until the last possible minute.
Sawyer’s writing style is clear and not show-offy. She spells out some conversations in Irish brogue, but uses it sparingly enough that it doesn’t get in the way of a smooth read. Because the third person narrative switches among three characters, the chapter headings, with the name of the viewpoint character, place and date, helped me to keep on top of whose story I was following, where I was and how much time had elapsed from previous scenes.
Not surprisingly, one of the story’s main concerns is with family. The seriousness of having no family is underlined when the author introduces us, through a skinny little wastrel named Petey, to the child labor situation widespread in America in the early 1900s. The theme of justice for society’s most vulnerable runs through the book. The theme of faith is also prominent. Main characters all subscribe to a Christian worldview and numerous times the story illustrates the importance of faith in God who sees each one no matter how alone and destitute.
This is the first book I’ve read by Kim Vogel Sawyer and I was surprised at how effortlessly it went down. I credit her plotting skill, which kept me turning just one more page, and another, and another. For fans of Americana with a dash of innocent romance, My Heart Remembers is an obvious and no-risk choice. Load your beach bag with more than this one book, though, because you’ll be finished before you know it.