In her novel Echos of Mercy, Kim Vogel Sawyer sends two different people undercover in a Kansas chocolate factory - Caroline, a member of the Labor Commission investigating the large number of employed children and the suspicious death of the former labor inspector who was sniffing around the factory, and Oliver, the son of the owner, who is getting a practical feel for the factory and figuring out where changes need to be made. Though they become friends, they both struggle to keep their real identities hidden, and they find themselves disagreeing over the issue of child labor. To top things off, both arouse the suspicions of the factory manager, who decidedly does NOT want anyone poking their noses into the death of the labor investigator . . .
There was significantly more suspense in this novel than I was expecting, but it was a pleasant surprise. It fits well with the setting, and it balances the political aspects better. I was afraid the arguing over child labor would be overwhelming, but between the suspense and the drama of the three Holcomb children, it was a well-rounded story. I especially liked how the three Holcomb children become a practical and personal example for Caroline and Oliver for finding compromise in the work versus school debate.
It takes a brave author to write in multiple dialects, since it is so hard to be true to how people actually speak and have the reader understand what is actually being said*. Sawyer does a fair amount of back and forth between upper class and lower class speech, and for the most part it is well done and not distracting. To protect his identity, Oliver has to fake the informal and grammatically incorrect language of the common laborer, but when he lapses back into his "natural" speech, it is overwhelmingly formal. It is hard to believe anyone would speak like that, but I will grant it is not outside the realm of possibility, given his very formal upbringing. However, I found it ironic that Caroline notices his occasional lapse with words like "summon" when it went completely over her head that the poor, illiterate child Letta correctly uses the term "irascible." (Ask a university full of college students - I bet maybe half could give the gist of its meaning without context. Maybe.) However, other than that one instance, Letta's language is stereotypical of the uneducated classes.
While the stories of Caroline and Oliver and the Holcomb children are suitably wrapped up, I wish there had been a little more conclusion regarding Oliver's father - it feels like he is left hanging at the end. However, I like how Oliver grows into his own man, able to take charge and make changes where he sees the need, and that Caroline overcomes her fears and prejudice. The author also has some good things to say on prayer. 4 out of 5 stars!
Thank you Blogging for Books (WaterBrook/Multnomah) for providing a free copy of the book for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.
*What we hear is not exactly what people say, and it looks really wrong when written down. In a locally classic example, this is what actually comes out of the mouth:
But the brain processes it as what it was meant to be:
"Did you eat yet?"
"No, do you want to?"
People rarely say the formal, correctly pronounced version, unless someone else asks for clarification on what was said. Then they'll repeat it slowly in the correct way and not even realize they just completely changed the pronunciation. If you were to show the speakers the "Djeet yet" version written down and ask them to read it and explain what it means, they probably wouldn't have a clue. So when writing in dialects, it has to convey how the words are pronounced while still being completely comprehensible. Gotta love language!
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