Trying to better her life, Espy Estrada takes a position as house help in a local professor's home, and to her joy, the professor begins tutoring Espy after her work is done. Warren Brentwood, son of one the leading families of the town, has been groomed to take over his father's businesses since birth, but his heart is not for the business, and his father does not respect his ideas. In an effort to reach out to the young people who have fallen away from the church, the pastor pairs Espy and Warren to form a group. While Espy and Warren get along well, they come from two separate worlds - the haves and the have nots - and try as they might, Espy's friends mesh little with Warren's. Suddenly, a scandal sets rumors flying about Espy and the professor - will anyone, least of all Warren, believe her, or will her good name be tarnished forever?
A major contribution to Espy's ruined reputation is simply her class difference - she is poor, with a disreputable father and no prospects, while the professor holds a respectable position in town. Throughout the novel there are examples of class prejudice - Mr. Brentwood's instant dismissal of the Estradas based on looks alone, Christina's maneuvering in the church group to oust Espy and place the wealthy into all positions of power, the snubs of Mrs. Brentwood and her friends. However, the class prejudice goes both ways - Espy's friends abandon the wealthy to have ice cream and fun on their own, Alvaro dislikes Warren's authority, a poor woman refuses to accept charity from Warren and his sister. Crossing that gap is difficult, as the relationship between Espy and Warren proves; very few people are truly care about integrating the two groups. How often do we do the same with our own cliques and groups?
My first inclination is to defend Espy wholeheartedly - everyone is so busy accusing her that they do not bother to listen to what actually happened, and the injustice is infuriating. In this situation, Espy is not in the wrong; foolish, maybe, to be spending time alone with a man, but it is with his wife's knowledge and permission. However, looking back, I can see where Espy should have been more careful to promote a chaste image. It may have made no difference with the professor, but she tends to flirt with the young men who flock around her, so it is easy for people to leap to the conclusion that she would also flirt with a married man.
While rules of propriety have changed over the years, a good reputation
is still something that, once lost, is incredibly difficult to regain. The story is a good reminder to be careful in our conduct. Many good christian girls do not realize what a temptation they can be, in both manner and dress. Physical contact can send the wrong signals; a touch that may be meant in sympathy or friendship can be taken as a romantic overture. So often we think we are perfectly modest when standing in front of a mirror, but men do not see us from the same angles, given their superior height; what is modest when looking straight on is not necessarily modest from above (or modest from below, when on a stairs).
Through Espy's experiences, Axtell includes a lot of points to ponder about modesty and reputation, but there is much more to the story than just that - Warren is on his own journey learning to follow God's lead, which is not necessarily his father's direction. I like where Espy and Warren's relationship goes - it does not necessarily start out well, but as they pursue God, it becomes purer, more loving, and more respectful; I can see them making it work. A strong novel with well-developed characters and a moving journey - 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you Moody Publishers for providing a free book in exchange for a review; I was not required to make it positive, and all opinions are my own.