The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart

What is going on between the covers

Rae Lynn Cobb and her careless husband, Warren, run a small turpentine farm together. They are happy and have a good marriage, but tragedy hits when Warren’s carelessness catches up to them. Rae Lynn flees the farm, is on the run and applies for work at Swallow Hill turpentine camp disguised as a man. When she struggles with the job, she becomes a target for the racist, evil, controlling foreman. She meets Dell, who is the only one not afraid to help his fellow workers. An unlikely bond is formed between them.

Setting

Donna Everhart captures a good sense of time and place with the turpentine camps and pine forests of the American South during the Great Depression. Hacking into tree trunks to draw the sticky sap gives the Tar Heel State its name.

Themes: courage, survival, and friendship

My two cents

While Donna Everhart captures that sense of time with sexism and racism, the dialogue became a bit much for me, with men treating women like they owned them or were around mainly for their entertainment. I tried to remind myself that it was a reflection of the times and focus on how times have changed, but I wasn’t all that convincing. I was ready to throw in the towels soon after starting.

Both Rae Lynn and Dell are strong, developed characters. Rae Lynn is vulnerable, courageous, and resilient. They meet the abused wife of the owner and form a heartwarming friendship. While I was not too fond of Dell’s sexist cringy treatment of women, he stands up against violence, bullying, and bigotry.

I had a hard time buying into why Rae felt like she needed to run, other than her being a woman and not being believed. It just wasn’t strong enough of a hook for me to invest in or create the tension and suspense to drive the story forward.

Overall

There are many good themes for social change here, and I should have loved it. There was too much going on in the story, making it feel busy, sad, and unsettling, and I couldn’t silence that overthinker who won’t stop nagging me.

Published in January 2022 by Kensington Books and read in Oct 2022

Genre: Historical fiction

Source: I received a copy from the publisher through NG

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