Thursday, February 21, 2013

Her Good Name by R. Axtell

In 1892 Espy Estrada is a poor half Portuguese girl in a small Maine town who dreams of doing more with her life than working in the cannery like the other poor Portuguese young ladies around her. A new job as a maid for a local teacher seems promising - especially when he offers to tutor her and help further her education for free.

Espy has all the male attention any girl could want - even that of local heir and pretty boy Warren Brentwood III who is recently back from college.

The two strike up a friendship, and, of course, any reader can see where this is going. Poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks - rich boy who gets whatever he wants...but of course the difference in their social classes keeps them from even seeing each other and from thinking the other would be interested in the least.

Her Good Name gets off to a very slow start. The entire first half of the book is basically back story. Girl and Boy knew each other as kids, they are now reacquainted but know nothing can come of their friendship because of social class. They are both placed on a church committee where they find ways to both linger together longer and avoid each other entirely.

Warren is being pursued by fellow upper-class girl, Christina. Espy seems to have a constant trail of love-sick boys after her. Neither likes the attention the other receives.

Then one day the teacher Espy works for makes a move on her - and his wife catches their embrace. Or, rather, his embrace, as Espy has somehow been completely unaware of the man's advances that even a child could have picked up on. Not wanting to admit to trying to kiss the maid, the husband says she made moves on him, Espy is fired and the entire town is abuzz because of it. This is where the book gets its name - her good name (which honestly wasn't "good" to start with since she was seen as just another Portuguese working girl) becomes sullied amidst the upper-crust. And for some reason love interest Warren believes the gossip.

The book actually gets slightly interesting when Espy moves to Bangor, Maine, to find more suitable work and to escape the undying gossip around town. Months later she is shocked to see Warren there as well - it seems he's left his father's lumber business in order to study theology and become a minister. The two spend a lot of time together where they fall in love without admitting it to each other.

Warren returns home for a short time and is invited by their hometown pastor to preach. He writes Espy and says he needs her there for moral support. Having not returned home since leaving her sullied reputation behind, Espy is hesitant, but goes for Warren's sake. There he parades her in front of his disapproving parents and their friends, making her further realize she is not a part of his social standing and never will be.

Her Good Name is a very predictable fiction novel. It might be good as a beach read - or, as I read it, something to pass the time while ignoring one's three children and it didn't much matter if I was interrupted over and over.
I found Espy and Warren hard to cheer for. Both had the "woe is me and my lot in life" attitude, though they enjoyed doing charitable work. And I realize I wasn't around 120 years ago, but I seriously doubt the misdeeds - true or false - of a poor immigrant's daughter would warrant the tongue wagging Espy received from the town's elite. And her reaction to run away didn't endear me to her at all. I felt she needed to stand up for herself - make her story known and believed, especially to the man she was actually falling for.

I would give this novel 2.5 stars out of 5. Readable, but hardly enticing.

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