Love's First Bloom is the newest Christian historical fiction by Delia Parr.
A taste of what it's about: When scandal and ruin begin to reach Ruth's minister father in 1838 New York City, he tells her she must go far away - and take care of a baby that is not her own, in order to protect them both. She resists, not wanting to leave him when he is about to be charged with a crime he did not commit... a crime she knows he did not commit - but in the end she does what she asks, as the dutiful, loving daughter she is. But hiding from the reporters searching for her doesn't just mean leaving New York, it means pretending to be someone she is not. Not to mention pretending to be the mother of this child - despite knowing nothing about how to care for her. Yet Ruth is ready to wait, and hope, for her father's acquittal and try to make a temporary home in the seaside village she resides. And start to befriend Jake, an injured man that lives on the property she tends her garden... but is he who he says he is? Or is he keeping as many secrets as Ruth is?
I'm desperately trying to not give too much away of the plot - pretty much what is said on the back of the very pretty book. But I will tell you this: I loved it.
The first sentences give Love's First Bloom an edgy start, with a secretive, hushed departure and whispered mentions of prostitution and murder. It's not long before we realize that Ruth's (who is only 22, again very relatable to the YA set of readers) father is being accused of murder, and expects the charges to come soon. This gives the novel an instant tension and intrigue that I wasn't expecting to be so very grounded and believable. Yet it was.
One of my favorite things about Love's First Bloom is how the author, Delia Parr, lets you truly get to know the characters before pushing romance on the plot. Instead, you get quality time finding out how these characters are, caring for them as individuals that are as nuanced as the rest of us.
The plot is unique - different from anything I think I've ever read before. A mixture of secret identities (without all the cliches) and the lyrical prose of character study. Ruth's faults and personal stumbles make her easily relatable, and her kindness, courage, and compassion make her highly likable.
Parr creates an environment that is rich in vivid scenery of the quiet, seaside village. She realistically portrays the sensation of a trial in 1838, and lets the reader be the only one that can share in Ruth's hidden pain that it is her father that everyone gossips about around her, that it is her father that is being written about in the paper - usually full of lies. Yet she must hold her tongue. It is heartbreaking.
Love's First Bloom is first and foremost about Ruth (and also Jake, whom I don't want to give too much about - find out for yourself!) - not about romance. I actually find this refreshing. When romance does become involved, it means so much more because I really love these people. But without it for the majority of the book, the plot is sublime all on it's own and the organic storytelling, restrained from overdoing or pushing anything, lets the reader (or at least me) feel and experience everything in a natural, lovely way.
The connection that grows between Ruth and the baby, Lily, is also a strong part of the story - and also done extremely well. This is exactly the kind of inspirational historical fiction I go for! There is such a perfect, delicate balance of being subdued, yet powerful.
Ruth's desire to rely on God and have faith in Him is encouraging and not heavy-handed. Plus, the shocking twists keep Love's First Bloom from ever becoming predictable.
In the end I found Love's First Bloom to be a beautiful, alluring, captivating story that I look forward to reading again someday.
That is, if I ever have time to reread anything ever again with how busy I am right now! Lol. ;)
*I received a copy of Love's First Bloom from the Bethany House Book Reviewers program, which you can check out here. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.