We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels
"The Past is Never as Past as we'd like to Think" is a quote on the back of We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels. This book and this quote made me truly think about the racial challenges in this country--and how my thoughts and actions could work for bettering things as we go into the future.
We Hope for Better Things tells the stories of three different generations of people and how race played a part in their stories through the Civil War, the 1960s and in today's world.
We read the story of Mary and Nathaniel Balsam and how they fared during the Civil War when Nathaniel left to join the Civil War and sent home a slave named George for Mary to help in the underground railroad--and more slaves in the future. Nathaniel and George faced challenges in their marriage and in the society in which they lived at that time as they tried to help the slaves to freedom.
Bartels also shares the story of another generation of Balsam's as Nora Balsam falls in love with a black man in Detroit in the 1960s. There is a show of prejudice through both families when the two get married and try to live a life together. There is also upheaval all around as Martin Luther King comes to town and there are riots that ensue not long after.
Then comes today's generation, Nora's neice, Elizabeth Balsam is journalist who is asked to deliver a box of old photographs to her great-aunt Nora, who lives in the house that once belonged to Mary and Nathaniel, and the story comes full circle in today's world.
I found We Hope for Better Things to be an easy story to follow. While the author flips back and forth throughout the book between the stories, as the reader I never lost track of characters or stories. I understand this is Bartels' first novel but it was so well-written and easy to follow that I am quite impressed with this first time author. While I liked the characters for the most part, I didn't always like the choices they made--and there were consequences to those choices when they didn't live "right." Because I usually read Christian novels, I should mention that there is mention of God and going to church, but this isn't a typical Christian novel. It is clean but there are some choices that are made that are clearly sinful although you can feel for why the character made those choices. The best part about We Hope for Better Things is that it could lead to discussions and thoughtful reflection on the racism in this country and how things could be better as we go forward. It would make some good book club discussions on that topic, as well as some good discussions on making good choices. I wish it came with questions to ask in the back, but it does not. However, We Hope for Better Things is book that could indeed lead to "better things" if we let it. I know this book will stick with me for a long time as I continue to reflect on it.
I received this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.