HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Friendly Persuasion
Author: Jessamyn West
Cover Illustrator: William A. Blake
Publisher: Harvest Books, reprinted 2003
Related website: http://www.harcourtbooks.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Teens and adults but suitable as a read aloud for all ages
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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West, Jessamyn. The Friendly Persuasion (originally published in 1945; republished in 2003 by Harvest Books, an imprint of Harcourt Inc., 15 E. 26th St.., New York City, NY 10010). It is around 1860, and Jess Birdwell, a Quaker, lives with his family at the Maple Grove Nursery, which he owns and operates, near the town of Vernon in Jennings County, IN, on the Muscatatuck River. His wife is Eliza, a Quaker preacher, and they have six living children, Joshua (Josh), Laban (Labe), Martha Truth (Maggie), Little Jess, Jane, and Stephen. Another daughter, Sarah, has died. Jess shares Eliza’s love of people and peaceful ways but, unlike Eliza, also displays a fondness for a fast horse and a lively tune. How does Eliza react when Jess buys an organ and trades their staid horse Red Rover for a faster one named Lady? And what will the Birdwells do when Morgan’s Confederate raiders are approaching their land?
Some time ago, my wife Karen brought home Friendly Persuasion, a 1956 Civil War film starring Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, for our family video. We really enjoyed it, and when I saw that it was based on West’s novel, I decided to read the book. The book is not identical to the movie, which is common enough, but both book and movie have their own strengths. Author Jessamyn West (1902-1984) was born in Indiana to Quaker parents. West gained the background material for her stories when her mother, Grace Milhous West, shared with her childhood memories of growing up as a Quaker girl in southern Indiana, and particularly of grandparents Joshua and Elizabeth Milhous, who became the models for the Birdwells.
While The Friendly Persuasion is often called “West’s first novel,” it is more a series of fourteen vignettes. Originally published between 1940 and 1945 as individual stories in Prairie Schooner, Collier’s, Harper’s Bazaar, The Atlantic Monthly, the Ladies’ Home Journal, New Mexico Quarterly Review, and Harper’s Magazine, West had them reprinted in more or less chronological order covering a forty-year span of the Birdwell family’s lives in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Several reviewers use the word “delightful” to describe the book, and I agree. The “h” word is used once as an interjection, but other than that, I really enjoyed this book. In 1969, West published a companion novel, Except for Me and Thee, whose stories filled in the history of the Birdwells, including how they courted, married, and moved to Indiana.