Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Goodreads: Wonderland Creek

Summary:  Alice Ripley loves books.  Detached from reality, she is content to live vicariously through her beloved novels.  But when the Great Depression means a layoff from her librarian position and her boyfriend Gordon ends their relationship, Alice suddenly finds herself without purpose or direction.  Wanting to get away from Blue Island, Illinois, and the mess her life there has become, Alice plans a short visit to the mountains of Kentucky to hand-deliver a pile of book donations she has been collecting for a poor rural library.  When that visit stretches out longer than intended – and turns out to include abandoned coal mines, hidden treasure, and librarians on horseback – Alice realizes that real life can prove far more exciting than any novel.

Review:  Wonderland Creek is the perfect novel for readers who have been teased about their love of books.  Though Alice Ripley’s obsession is a bit extreme – to the point where she distractedly sets fire to her mother’s kitchen and even begins reading at a funeral – readers might be able to smile and console themselves that they, at least, are not that bad.

In Kentucky, Alice has her first real-world adventure, and readers experience it with her as Austin includes enough action and mystery to keep things interesting.  The book has every cliché you would expect from a story set in early twentieth-century Appalachia – including feuds, stills, abandoned coal mines, and a local distrust of flatlanders.  When hidden treasure, midnight flights from the law, and other various escapades find their way into the plot, as well, the story becomes enthralling – but also a little unbelievable.  As this tale unfolds, Alice repeatedly notes how amazed she is that real life can be so exciting.  I had originally thought part of Austin’s goal with Wonderland Creek was to give devoted readers a reminder to live in the real world once in a while.  By the time I’d finished the work, I was not so sure.  If every book lover willing to set aside her novels for a few months had an adventure like Alice’s, we would have no need for fiction.  However, Alice’s story is an exciting one, and well-worth the time it takes to read.  Furthermore, though our own adventures in the real world may not prove as novel-worthy as Alice’s, the story is a bit of a challenge to give them a try.

This book has a Christian message.  Author Lynn Austin has received seven Christy awards for historical Christian fiction, and this reviewer predicts Wonderland Creek will be in the running next year.  Characters have conversations about God and faith, and there is a definite theme of a providential hand shaping events.  The book is not overly preachy, however, and faith is meaningfully woven into the story instead of detracting from it.

Published:  2011

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