Pub. Date: July 26, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Viking!)
Summary: One night in 1917 Beatrice Haven sneaks out of her uncle’s house on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby at the foot of a pear tree, and watches as another woman claims the infant as her own. The unwed daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists and a gifted pianist bound for Radcliffe, Bea plans to leave her shameful secret behind and make a fresh start. Ten years later, Prohibition is in full swing, post-WWI America is in the grips of rampant xenophobia, and Bea’s hopes for her future remain unfulfilled. She returns to her uncle’s house, seeking a refuge from her unhappiness. But she discovers far more when the rum-running manager of the local quarry inadvertently reunites her with Emma Murphy, the headstrong Irish Catholic woman who has been raising Bea’s abandoned child—now a bright, bold, cross-dressing girl named Lucy Pear, with secrets of her own.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Leaving Lucy Pear shot to the top of my To Read list the minute I heard about it: amidst Prohibition and the aftermath of the First World War, a wealthy daughter gives birth to a baby and leaves her underneath a pear tree, watching as another woman takes the newborn. What little I knew about this book hit every single one of my buttons and I knew it was something I was going to read somehow, someday.
As though she somehow knew I had my eye on this book, the publicist extraordinaire reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in a copy. She gets me, guys, and has handpicked SO many fabulous titles that I’ve gone on to love. Naturally I couldn’t reply fast enough!
Just after World War One has ended with tensions still high and Prohibition in full swing, Beatrice Haven gives birth to a baby girl. As the daughter of a very wealthy family, a gifted pianist with her sights set on Radcliffe, and – most importantly – unwed, Bea cannot possibly be expected to keep the child and has been hidden away from society throughout her pregnancy. Once she gives birth, however, she realizes she can’t go through with the adoption and sneaks out of her uncle’s house in the middle of the night to place the baby among the pear trees in the orchard. Not long after, Bea watches as a woman appears and takes the baby with her.
Ten years later, Bea is still living at her uncle’s house, miserable and lonely. The arrival of a new caretaker sets the wheels in motion for a reunion a decade in the making for Emma Murphy is the woman who came to the orchard all those years ago and raised a baby that wasn’t hers.
I’m feeling very conflicted. On the one hand, Leaving Lucy Pear was a bold, sweeping story bursting with characters. On the other…I have to say it wasn’t quite what I expected. I’m fully willing to chalk this one up to me misinterpreting the summary (it’s certainly happened before!) since I’m clearly in the minority here, but I went in anticipating a story set in the early days of the Jazz Age where a wealthy, young, unwed woman had a baby who was then raised by another woman already dealing with a sizable brood of her own. In a sense I did get that, but I hadn’t been prepared for the other, seemingly unrelated story lines: a wealthy quarry owner is carrying on an affair while his wife blames herself for her numerous miscarriages, there’s a marriage born out of convenience (he, an actor who prefers the company of men; she, a woman prone to panic attacks and on the verge of madness). Bea is heading the temperance movement as well as going round to ‘poor-looking houses’ to discuss – and hand out – contraceptives. It’s at one of these houses that she first meets Emma Murphy, an Irish Catholic woman with nine children. A workers’ strike, child abuse, and gender issues are all thrown into the mix as well.
While Leaving Lucy Pear didn’t quite live up to my admittedly extremely high expectations, it was still a solid read jam-packed with vibrant characters and set in a fascinating period in history. Unfortunately, the number of story lines kept me from becoming fully invested in this one and sidestepped characters I would have loved to have been able to get to know better. I understand I’m the odd man out, since it’s already received heaps of praise just a few days after its release and I’m positive other readers will find it far more intriguing than I did. Cutting one or two of the lesser stories would have done a world of difference in allowing the remaining arcs to be fleshed out further and wouldn’t have made the book feel as though it was overstaying its welcome.