Book Review: Home to Woefield


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Synopsis:

Prudence Burns is dedicated to living the most natural, ecologically responsible life she can, even though she resides in Brooklyn. That includes recycling, growing and eating organic produce, not leaving a huge carbon footprint behind, minimizing her use of gas and other natural resources, and even composting. With live worms. It is, in fact, an unfortunate episode involving those worms that leads to the demise of her relationship with Leo. Prudence is a writer who has published one book, but it was neither a critical nor popular success. Her dream is move away from the city and live in the country, growing and selling organic crops.

Her dream has just become a reality: Her Great Uncle Harold has died and left her his thirty-acre farm, Woefield.

When she arrives at her new home, Prudence discovers that Harold hasn’t been doing much farming. The soil is dry and hard, and there is only one animal on the farm, a half-sheered sheep name Bertie. On the edge of the property sits a cabin in which Harold’s elderly, long-time farm hand, Earl, resides. From the state of disrepair in which Prudence finds the house, it appears Earl hasn’t done much except watch television with Harold for quite some time.

Prudence also encounters Seth, the twenty-one-year-old who lives across the road with his mother. Seth blogs about celebrities and heavy metal music, but he never leaves his house. He dropped out of high school after a mysterious and obviously humiliating incident involving his drama teacher. Now that his mother has a new boyfriend moving in with her, she tells Seth that he has to move out. But where will he live?

And Prudence also becomes acquainted with Sara. She is only eleven years old and her parents have a tumultuous, troubled relationship. Sara needs a home for the chickens she is training and plans to enter in the competition at the upcoming fair. She is especially confident that the one she has christened “Alec Baldwin” will net her a top prize.

Unfortunately, the farm itself is not the only thing Harold neglected. He also neglected to pay the mortgage and other bills. The bank is on the verge of foreclosing. Can Prudence devise a business plan that will convince the bank to grant the extension she needs in order to scrape together enough cash to begin making regular payments? Can she execute that plan and actually earn a living at Woefield Farm?

Review:

Author

Author Susan Juby’s first foray from young adult to adult fiction is told from the disparate viewpoints of Prudence, Seth, Sara, and, of course, the cantankerous Earl. The story is propelled forward in successive chapters through the alternating voices of the four characters, allowing readers to see key events as they transpire through that character’s eyes. The result is a surprisingly cohesive, taut narration that reveals the characters’ histories, opinions, emotions, and viewpoints.

The result is also frequently hilarious. Prudence Burns is idealistic and naive. She actually arrives at Woefield Farm with antiquated notions about barn raisings and neighborly socials. Soon enough, however, she realizes that living on a farm is hard work and she is going to need a lot of assistance in order to convert Woefield into a profitable operation. Earl serves as the voice of pessimistic reason, sticking around out of curiosity to see if Prudence can pull off a miracle, but ready with an exit strategy in case she can’t. Earl’s painful family history is a secret he has kept to himself for many years, the revelation of which could change all of their lives — but will he allow his legacy to be used to help Prudence achieve her dreams?

As for Seth, he is a greasy-haired, pasty-complexioned misfit who learned how to drink to excess from his alcoholic father and fend for himself by his neglectful mother. Now he won’t even be able to continue living at home with his mother, as she tells him her new boyfriend needs his room in order to set up his model helicopter parts and repair operation. Out of desperation — and laziness — Seth strikes a deal with Prudence, agreeing to work at Woefield in exchange for room and board. But Seth’s drinking problem is no laughing matter and his behavior poses a threat to Prudence’s shot at convincing the bank to work with her on a payment plan.

Sara is an intelligent, articulate, and highly motivated eleven-year-old whose parents’ abusive arguments have caused her to look elsewhere for support and guidance. She focuses on her faith, reading the Bible and the Left Behind books. She is constantly watchful for “The Rapture” and determined not to be left behind when it occurs. Sara pours her energy into caring for her chickens, hoping to prepare them to take top prizes at the upcoming fair. But she needs a place to keep them since they can’t remain at her parents’ home. Prudence agrees to let Sara keep the chickens at Woefield, and even puts Seth and Earl to work building an elaborately designed chicken coop for them. In the process, Sara begins spending more and more time at the farm, and bonds with Prudence. Eventually, her mother decides to let Sara stay for an extended period of time while she, newly empowered to leave Sara’s father, tries to pull her own life together.

Of course, there is a little romance thrown in for good measure. The handsome local vet turns out to have more than good advice about how to care for poor Bertie. He also has a surprising appreciation of Seth’s circumstances. And a strong attraction to Prudence once she tells him the truth about Bertie and the near-disastrous, but laugh-out-loud funny efforts of Seth, et al. to finish sheering the frightened animal.

Juby’s tale is unique, clever, and intriguing. It is clear from the outset that Prudence is going to succeed, but how she is going to manage it is not. Prudence is initially gullible and hapless, but also determined and intelligent. She learns quickly from her mistakes, and is largely fearless, even to the point of concocting an elaborate story about turning Woefield Farm into a substance abuse treatment center in order to convince the bank to give her time to get the business up and running. With brochures designed by Seth, the computer whiz, she finds herself “counseling” her first client, the banker’s own niece! But Prudence soon realizes that honesty is the best policy — especially when her refusal to admit ownership of forlorn Bertie nearly costs her a chance at love with Dr. Eustace — and she rethinks her business plan, in light of her discovery of Earl’s hidden talent and familial show business connections. By the time the book concludes, Prudence has evolved and grown into a woman who just might make her dream come true, after all.

Juby takes four flawed characters, each emotionally and psychically damaged from their own life experiences, and tosses them together in a thoroughly unusual and outlandish setting. The result is a funny, but sentimental and, ultimately, moving story about second chances and redemption. For Seth, that means a chance to overcome his personal demons and unfortunate history. For Earl, that means a reunion with a brother he hasn’t seen for more than fifty years and the chance to resolve long-standing family conflicts. For Sara, that means the opportunity to escape the oppressive atmosphere in her home in pursuit of her own dream of raising champion chickens. And, of course, for Prudence, it is her chance to live out her dream of owning and operating a farm. The four characters, along with Dr. Eustace, become an unlikely family — caring for, learning to depend upon, and unconditionally supporting each other.

Home to Woefield starts off slowly, but as you adapt to the rotating narrators’ rhythms and cadence, you will find yourself pulled into the lives of those storytellers and unable to put the book down before you find out just how Prudence manages to hold onto Woefield — and her dreams. By the time the details are revealed, you might be surprised to find that the motley crew of characters have taken up residence in your heart and, even as you laugh at their foibles and exploits, you are simultaneously cheering for them. Home to Woefield is a creative and impressive debut adult novel. I can’t wait to see what kind of tale Juby comes up with next!

I read Home to Woefield in conjunction with the 2011 Read ‘n’ Review and Outdo Yourself Challenges.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Home to Woefield free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




Comments

  1. Kyle says

    This sounds like a great YA read just dying to be picked up for mini-movie treatment and played endlessly on ABC Family. Quite relevant for today’s teens too. The whole organic sustainable quality sounds just like my younger sister. I’ll have to send her a link to the review as a recommendation!

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