Once upon a Summer (by Janette Oke)

I first heard of Janette Oke back in the early 1990s when we moved to the US for a couple of years. A friend recommended her novels to me, as wholesome light reading that would give a general idea of American history. I borrowed several from the library, and while I found some of them a bit too lightweight, I particularly enjoyed a the four books in the 'Seasons of the Heart' series, which I borrowed from a library.

The first of these is entitled 'Once upon a Summer', and I've vaguely looked out for it over the years without success. So I was delighted to find this a few weeks ago, on special offer - free for my Kindle.

The story is told by 12-year-old Josh who was orphaned at a young age. He lives on a farm with his grandfather, great-uncle Charlie, and Aunt Lou. Lou is only a few years older than he is, but runs the kitchen and household effectively, while Josh combines a zest for life with a great deal of hard work, both at school and on the farm where he has a lot of daily chores.

The arrival of Josh's great-grandfather shakes things up a bit, as does his grandfather's determination to find a suitable young man for Lou.

The style is fairly realistic for that of a young teenage boy, with some colloquialisms and informal spelling, but not so many that it became hard to read. While Josh is inevitably a great deal more mature than most of today's 12-year-olds, he nevertheless loves time off, enjoys fishing, likes to have a joke around, and thinks primarily of his own interests. He's a likeable boy and I found I could relate to him surprisingly well.

I had entirely forgotten the story, but felt that it was a well-drawn picture of life in a bygone era in the US, with plenty of human interest. The emotive side is stronger than I had expected, and I found tears welling up more than once as I read.

There's an underlying Christian which isn't at all intrusive until towards the end, when it becomes more overt; this might irritate some readers, but I didn't feel that it was overdone. In the context of the story it's relevant and believable.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. It would be eminently suitable for teens or older children as well as adults. It's still in print in paperback in the US, but only currently available in e-book form in the UK.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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