Published by Tyndale on July 6, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical
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A story of resilience and redemption set against one of America's defining moments--the Dust Bowl.It's 1935 in Oklahoma, and lives are determined by the dust. Fourteen-year-old Kathryn Baile, a spitfire born with a severe clubfoot, is coming of age in desperate times. Once her beloved older sister marries, Kathryn's only comfort comes in the well-worn pages of her favorite book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Then Kathryn's father decides to relocate to Indianapolis, and only the promise of a surgery to finally make her "normal" convinces Kathryn to leave Oklahoma behind. But disaster strikes along the way, and Kathryn must rely on her grit and the ragged companions she meets on the road if she is to complete her journey.
Back in Boise City, Melissa Baile Mayfield is the newest member of the wealthiest family in all of Cimarron County. In spite of her poor, rural upbringing, Melissa has just married the town's most eligible bachelor and is determined to be everything her husband--and her new social class--expects her to be. But as the drought tightens its grip, Henry's true colors are revealed. Melissa covers her bruises with expensive new makeup and struggles to reconcile her affluent life with that of her starving neighbors. Haunted by the injustice and broken by Henry's refusal to help, Melissa secretly defies her husband, risking her life to follow God's leading.
Two sisters, struggling against unspeakable hardship, discover that even in their darkest times, they are still united in spirit, and God is still with them, drawing them home.
Heavy—that’s how I would describe If It Rains by Jennifer L. Wright. I will also preface this by saying that this is not a happy novel. This is a story you should ingest slowly to appreciate it. I read it all in one day. In part because I had nothing else to do, but also because I didn’t like the book and wanted to finish it. This is not to say If It Rains is poorly written, or that it does not have a good plot. It does. But out of personal preference, it’s not a novel I would purchase for myself, nor will I read it again – and that’s a compliment of sorts.
Being born and raised in southeast Texas, I’ve never experienced a dust storm. My best friend has, though, and has described it to me. She’s shown me photos from west Texas, and conversations with her mother about how they “live on Mars.” Wright’s imagery in If It Rains is superb. She pulled my friend’s photographs to the forefront of my mind but also added feeling to them. Wright’s work didn’t just have sight—it had smell, taste, and sound. Her writing style reminded me of Delia Owens in her novel Where the Crawdads Sing. Wright created lifelike word pictures for her readers, and that was a pleasure to experience. I’d never believe If It Rains to be Wright’s first published novel.
There is very little joy in If It Rains by Jennifer L. Wright, which is probably true to the period during which the book occurs. No comic relief whatsoever, though there are moments of warmth with the brief references to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If It Rains is intense, pushing down on your shoulders and chest until it’s hard to breathe. It never lets up; instead, the novel buries you deeper into what must have been overarching negativity of the 1930s. I like reading novels that cause me to smile; If It Rains did not do that once—which, in a way, is a sign of a good book. Happiness isn’t a requirement for a “good” novel. While If It Rains does have a…satisfying conclusion (though that’s a stretch), it still isn’t what I’d consider happy.
My biggest qualm about the novel: Neither of the characters was likable. Kathryn is hardhearted, and her personal misery blinds her to what is around her. She’s resilient, but she’s also unforgiving, rude, and self-centered. Melissa…seemed weak to me. She would not stand up for herself—which, I know is true to life with domestic abuse victims. While she worked to help others, she was rarely proud of it; rather, it seemed shame enveloped her. She just bothered me, though not as much as Kathryn. It felt like Wright tried to think of the worst possible lives for the sisters, and had everything terrible pummel them like a volley of arrows during a battle.
If It Rains challenges its readers to consider present circumstances, relative to the past. It moves steadily, with memorable scenes that remain fresh in my mind even after finishing the novel. I am happy I read the novel, even if I did not find it an enjoyable experience. But it was real. Impactful. Eye-opening, as I’ve never previously read anything about the Dust Bowl.
Jennifer L. Wright will be one to watch.