Mercer Girls, by Libbie Hawker

27 May
mercer girls libbie hawker

Three of Five Stars

This book might rate 4 stars to a different reader, but for my own enjoyment I’m giving it 3. It just wasn’t quite meaty enough for me.

Although it’s titled Mercer Girls, that history isn’t too important to this story, it’s just a reason to bring these three women together. The East Coast’s male population was ravaged by the Civil War, but the West Coast was suffering from a lack of females for the men to marry. So Asa Mercer traveled East to bring women back as possible brides in Seattle. The first 40% of the book is an introduction to three of these women: devout and pure Sophronia, young and wild Dovey, and the “elder” (35 years) Jo, who is content to be a spinster teacher as long as she escapes her life in the East.

Each of these women have their own reasons for leaving Massachusetts, and after the long and horrifying trip by boat (all the way down to Panama and back up) these three are not exactly Mercer success stories. The past catches up to each of them, and they all have their own issues that prevent them from getting married. The story is more about women’s rights and Suffrage from 1864-1870, and Susan B. Anthony & Abigail Duniway are featured prominently in the story.

I was a little disappointed that we don’t find out much about how the lives of actual Mercer Girls went – unless the Mercer experiment was a complete failure all around, but I doubt it. All three of these girls have their own adventures when they arrive in Seattle, but none of them are according to Mercer’s plan. So that history is missing, other than the horrific journey to the West.

The Women’s Suffrage storyline was very interesting though, and also depressing when you realize how far we’ve come and also how far we still have to go. If you read this story and wonder how women could have possibly left their entire life choices and finances in the hands of their fathers and husbands, you should also be wondering why our physical bodies and medical needs are still in the hands of others. Having read several books recently about the time before Suffrage, I just find the whole thing a bit depressing.

The story focuses on the life in Seattle for wild child Dovey, devout Sophronia and the victimized Jo, but it wasn’t fleshed out enough for me. I’d love to read MORE about Dovey; in this book we barely see any of her plans come to fruition. Sophronia has only a small character development, and there’s not enough of Jo either.

And the end is wrapped up just a little too tidily. I don’t buy Dovey’s final reconciliation, that comes out of the blue with no explanation. I don’t understand Jo’s final decision whatsoever. And Sophronia ended up with the life you expect of her from the beginning.

It just wasn’t enough for ME. But it wasn’t a bad book at all, and I think readers who want a lighter story taking place in this time period might very well love it. I needed something a bit meatier, and I would have loved to hear more about the other Mercer Girls.

Thanks so much to NetGalley for allowing me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

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3 Responses to “Mercer Girls, by Libbie Hawker”

  1. Wedgwood in Seattle History May 28, 2016 at 2:48 am #

    I haven’t read this book but it sounds to me that the characters are fictitious based upon the real Mercer Girls story — I never heard of any Mercer Girls by the names given of these three characters. For the real Mercer Girls, all but one of them did marry. Most of the girls did teach school for a while. http://historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=1125

    • Cynthia May 28, 2016 at 5:27 am #

      Thanks so much for that information! And yes, the 3 girls were definitely fictitious. Asa Mercer was in the book, and a good portion was spent on the voyage which appears to be historically correct. However there was no additional male on board with the group (in the book). Dovey was 15/16, Jo was 35, and I think Sophronia was 19, but their stories do not match the real passengers. I’d never heard of the Mercer Girls before, and wouldn’t mind reading another book about them, fiction or not.

      • Wedgwood in Seattle History May 28, 2016 at 6:37 am #

        You probably know that there were two expeditions for Mercer Girls and both were considered successful. There is some discussion of it in a Seattle history book called Four Wagons West, as she tells about some of the girls, where they taught school and who they married. Some were young single women and some were widows who wanted to re-marry and knew that they would have a better chance Out West.

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