Backwater by Joan Bauer (1999)
Told in first person, sixteen-year-old Ivy Breedlove is the youngest in a family of lawyers and of course is expected to study the law, even though she doesn’t want to. History is her love – and her Breedlove family history is what her brilliant legal father calls an obsession she is “totally enslaved” by.
She tells him:
“I could be on drugs, Dad. I could be smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. I could be-“
“Getting ready to study the law.” I could almost mouth the words. “When I was sixteen, Ivy, I had read every piece of literature there was to read concerning America’s great law institutions where fine men and women learned to love the law, learned to defend it to the death, learned to not take no for an answer.”
“Learned to bill by the hour,” I added, and Dad said that as God was his witness, a law education was the cornerstone of a successful, fulfilled life.
“You know, Dad, there are important people in this family other than lawyers.”
“What about Mercy Breedlove who lived in the time of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement and believed so strongly that women should have the right to vote that at seventeen she embroidered the front and back of a dress with Susan B. Anthony’s words of freedom: Men, their rights, and nothing more. Women their rights and nothing less. And she wore that dress day in and day out with everyone pointing at her, screaming at her to stop. That was long before anti-perspirant, too.”
“Embroidery,” Dad sputtered, “is not a proper Breedlove career.”
Ivy is writing a family history she hopes to have completed for her Great Aunt Tib’s birthday, yet the more she researches, the more she becomes fascinated by her family, from her late mother whom is barely talked about, to her mysterious Aunt Jo who has disappeared off the face of the planet. The story is about Ivy’s search for her missing relative, who like herself, eschewed the law to follow her own “unacceptable” passion. Yet it is also about learning more of her late mother.
Here Ivy asks her aunt if she remembers her own mother’s funeral:
“Do you remember your mother’s funeral?”
“I don’t remember anything,” I said. “I had this dream right after she died that I was on a mountain and birds were flying over me and I was standing in the tall grass that was wafting in the breeze.”
“You remember that?”
“I dreamt it.”
“No, you didn’t.”
And of course like any good teen novel, we have romance, and naturally all good boyfriends are called Jack. Says Ivy of her Jack, a hopeless mountain ranger (it’s set in New York’s Adirondack mountains), “Jack Louden might not be major ranger material, but in the boyfriend department, he redefined the genus.” Goes without saying, this book has a most wonderful ending.
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