Sunday, December 4, 2011

In God Is Our Trust, Volume 5 of the Free Men and Dreamers Series, a Review

Wow. Laurie Lewis, writing as L. C. Lewis, completed her five-volume Free Men and Dreamers series. Volume Five, In God is Our Trust was published this fall by Walnut Springs Press.

This series chronicles the lives of the Jed Pearson family and friends who live at the Willows Plantation along the Patuxent River in Maryland before and after the War of 1812. As Les Edgerton says, “When the trouble is gone, the story is over.” Given the setting­­—the beginning of the industrial revolution when long distance communication consisted of letters that took weeks to arrive, when medical knowledge was still very basic, and great social inequalities were commonplace—there’s lots of potential for trouble. Factor into that a war with England and the political aftermath, and there’s plenty of action and adventure to move the plot along.

I’ve noticed several things as I read through In God Is Our Trust:

1. L. C. Lewis knows her American and British history and is skillful at weaving it into her narrative. Very seldom does the reader get the feeling that they’ve just been the recipient of a data dump.

2. Ms. Lewis also knows how to put familiar historical facts we’ve always known into a wider context, like showing how the climate reaction to the eruption of Mt. Tambora affected the crops of northeast United States in 1816 and, by extension, how it affected the people we care about.

3. L. C. Lewis manages a full cast of characters handily. The way she does it reminds me of my mother knitting argyle socks, with lots of little bobbins hanging down. If mother neglected to knit in the yarn from a particular bobbin at the proper time, the line would be crooked. L. C. Lewis never misses a bobbin. All her characters’ lines are straight.

4. L. C. Lewis lets us see undercurrents forming that we know will bear fruit later in American History. Of particular interest to me was to see the beginning of the abolitionist movement decades before the Civil War. Also, L. C. Lewis shows us the beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). This was an American phenomenon that had its roots in the time and place that Lewis chronicles with the Pearson family, and it goes on to have a profound influence on American Westward expansion. I remember that unit from when I taught fifth grade.

5. L. C. Lewis does a masterful job of letting us see how events in American history affect the lives of American people of different social strata. Though Jed Pearson, as a landowner and senator, moves in exalted circles when he’s at the capitol, at home in his farmer clothes he works with common people who are his lifelong friends. We get to know and care about both exalted and common.

6. L. C. Lewis’s villains have some redeeming qualities. We see them as the products of the world they live in, and they are believable and true in their villainy from book to book.

I enjoyed the Free Men and Dreamer series and highly recommend it. I particularly enjoyed getting to see how the historical figures were viewed by people of their own time: Dolley Madison, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Joseph Smith, Jr. L. C. Lewis gave me a glimpse of each of these people from a different perspective than my 5th Grade Teacher’s Guide. In God is Our Trust was a nice ending to the series. We saw both Jed and Hannah Pearson as mature, responsible individuals and, though we knew the trouble wasn’t gone yet, we felt confident that they could handle anything that came along.


Laurie LC Lewis said...

Thanks, Liz. Sadly, I often thought fifth-graders knew more American history than most adults. I'm no longer confident that that's true, nor that our children are being taught to see the Founders and that generation as heroic anymore. I'm honored if the series increases a readers' appreciation of history and the heroes behind it. Thanks again for those lovely points.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Laurie is an amazing author, and Liz is a pretty darned good reviewer, too. :)