Review: We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels
JD's Rating: 4.5 out of 5 bookmarks

This book is one of the best books I have read in the past 12 months. It pulled me in from the very beginning and held my attention the entire way through. Bartels knows how to create engaging characters and then spin a compelling tale that keeps you turning the pages.

We Hope for Better Things is a multi-generational family saga that hops back and forth between present day, the 1960s, and the late 1800s Civil War era; all in and around Detroit, Michigan. The story addresses some very tough issues, the most prominent being the horrors of racism, but also marital infidelity and familial responsibility.

Here is the official summary courtesy of Baker Publishing Group:
When journalist Elizabeth Balsam is asked to deliver a box of old photos to a relative she didn't know she had, the strange request seems like it isn't worth her time. But as she explores her great-aunt's farmhouse with its locked doors and hidden graves, she soon discovers just how dramatically some of the most newsworthy events of the previous two centuries shaped her own family. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding.
Take an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to Michigan's Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.

Elizabeth is a wonderful character who despite her many flaws, I couldn't help but root for her and wish for her to achieve her life's goals. As she goes on a quest of sorts to unravel the threads of her family's history, however dark or unpleasant it might be, I could feel the emotions she felt and sympathize with her. Her relationship with her great-aunt was a touching and heartwarming part of this story.

Although this is her first novel, one can tell that Erin Bartels is an accomplished writer from the first few pages. Her prose is beautiful without getting too literary; the perfect balance of a gentle elegance while not being overly flowery. Her dialogue is natural; never stilted or wooden, and she characterized the various dialects accurately and tastefully. The plot was intricate, as you might expect from a cross-generational story, with a whole lot going on in each time period, but it was woven together quite well. There were just a few moments where I lost track of a character or two due to the bouncing around, but for the most part, everything was easy enough to follow. And even though there were a couple of plot elements that I saw coming from a mile away, I still really enjoyed Bartels' writing style and the way she unfolded the narrative.

Erin Bartels -
As referenced above, there are many themes that are touched on in this novel. Aside from the big one of racial prejudice, there are explorations of smaller day-to-day life issues, such as quandaries over career choices, forgiveness amongst family members, long-held grudges, the pitfalls of forming presuppositions, and a lot more. Most of the subjects are personified by one or more of the main characters in each era of the Balsam family and it's not usually pretty. The author tackles these issues head-on and shines a light on them in all their ugliness. There are many dark moments throughout these 400 pages with the moments of levity being few and far between. Yet, even with that being the case, there is something gripping about this tale that I couldn't shake. The rawness, and I suppose, the simple humanness, of it stayed with me for days after I finished it.

In summation, this is not a pretty story, but it is a beautiful one. One with an important lesson. It shows how each person can choose how they will react to awful life situations, regardless of your family history or current challenges, you can rise above and make a better future. Sometimes you have to choose the unpopular or uncomfortable choice to take a stand for what is right, but with reliance on God and a steadfast determination, we can look towards the future and hope for better things.

Content Note: There is an instance of marital infidelity in this story, though while not overly graphic or explicit, is fairly clearly referenced. It is not portrayed in a positive light at all and the characters involved suffer greatly for it. There is also a romantic angle that is depicted in the various eras that this story spans, but they are all clean and neither sappy and unrealistic nor inappropriate. I recommend this book to ages 18 and up due to the subject matter covered.

J.D. Sutter is the producer and host of the Bookworm Banquet podcast and editor of the blog. He is the founder of Porchlight Family Media, a network of quality audio programming and review blogs based in Phoenix, AZ.

Disclosure: The publisher provided us with a free copy of this book for promotional purposes. This post contains affiliate links.

J.D. Sutter

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