Book Review: At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

February 1, 2017 Book review 5 ★★★★

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier is another winner for me from this creative author.  Tracy Chevalier writes fiction that is meticulously researched, brings the past vividly to life and entertains the hell out of me.  I love that she isn’t afraid to shock with crude words, and even cruder situations.  Most literary fiction bores me, but this shock element, along with her unexpected imagery draws me in.  At The Edge of the Orchard is a perfect example of this.

Book Review: At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy ChevalierAt the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Published by Viking on March 15th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 289
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property.

But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life. 1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country.

In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

BOOKLOVE CREATIVE Historical Refreshing Well Written

My Thoughts on At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

This is set in the Wild West at the time of the Gold Rush and tells the story of Robert Goodenough, who travels West to escape from his violent past.  My previous exposure to Pioneer Family stories was via Laura Ingalls Wilder.  But, this is no happy, wholesome Little House on the Prairie feel-good book.

“People had gone west leaving behind all sorts of trouble; what they found in California was the space and freedom to create new trouble.”

To be honest,  if you are looking for a happy, uplifting, feel-good book then you can knock this one right off your list! It was no barrel of laughs with themes of marital disharmony, murder, rape and incest. But it was also full of real characters just coping the best they could with all that life shot at them. The family dynamics are both horrifying and touching.

And then to balance it all out were beautiful descriptions of trees, seedlings and apples. I can safely say, I’m now an expert on apples.  This part of the book is in such contrast to the jarring family dynamics, but it really works.

In a nutshell; it’s dark, gritty and a strangely compelling read


Rating Report
Did I feel it?
Overall: four-stars


Who should read At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier?

I’d recommend this to if you love historical fiction, memorable characters and literary fiction that isn’t up itself like so many are!  Fans of her previous books such as The Girl with the Pearl Earring (one of my favourite books) should also enjoy this one.



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