Julie (by Catherine Marshall)

I recently re-read one of Catherine Marshall’s non-fiction books, and found it interesting and thought-provoking. I remembered that we had one of her fiction books, so put that in my pile of books to re-read and have just finished it. This was the author’s final publication; she died while it was in the final editing stage, and her husband completed it.

‘Julie’ is the story of 17-year-old Julie Wallace and her family who live in the United States during the depression era, in the late 1920s. We first meet them as they’re in their elderly car on their way to a small town called Alderton, where Julie’s father Ken is about to take up the post of editor on a small newspaper, The Sentinel. Ken is an ordained minister but due to highly stressful circumstances has decided to take up a secular job. He’s invested almost all his savings in the paper, and the family struggle to make ends meet.

Julie is a free-thinking and confident young woman in her last year at high school. She has ambitions to be a writer, in both fiction and journalism, and agrees to be the paper’s proof-reader as well as doing some research and writing for minor articles. She comes into some conflict with Emily Cruley, who has been working on the paper for years but eventually proves herself capable.

There are a great many characters in the book and I found it a bit confusing at times, trying to remember who was whom. Randolph Wilkinson is an Englishman whom the family meet early in the book, and who captures Julie’s interest right from the start. Spencer, the young pastor at the family’s church, is also an interesting character as is Dean, an older middle-aged man who offers to service the printing press regularly without pay, and who helps the family in a lot of ways.

The character of Julie, who narrates the story, is very believable and three-dimensional, perhaps because her personality and some of her experiences were apparently taken from the author’s own background, although the story is entirely fictional. The political upheaval of the Depression years is shown well in the different attitudes of the people around Julie, particularly those who want to see an end to corruption, and workers’ unions to fight unfairness.

It’s a Christian book but without being preachy or mushy. The importance of helping those in need is stressed, as is the importance of the Holy Spirit, although it seems odd in these more enlightened times that even a former pastor would be unaware of the third person of the Trinity. There’s a a good vs evil theme, which shows as a clash of morality vs ambitious greed; some of the wealthy ambitious people are really very unpleasant in a way that seems scarcely credible.

The whole book foreshadows a terrible tragedy that takes place in the final chapters, which provides high drama and heartbreak before Julie’s family and neighbours begin yet again to build a new life. I found it quite difficult to put down toward the end, although in the early pages the writing was a bit long-winded and could have done with some editing.

The book is topped and tailed by a visit to the area by Julie, fifty years on, now a mother and grandmother; the prologue doesn’t say much but the epilogue is a nice way of seeing what happened in the intervening years, and who married whom.

All in all, I enjoyed it. It's still in print on both sides of the Atlantic, despite being published over thirty years ago.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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