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Non 1001 Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard Tracy Chevalier


At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Release date: March 15 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: At the Edge of the Orchard

This ARC was provided by Penguin Group Viking (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet. 

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a well researched story about life in the harsh swamplands of Ohio in the 1800s. It is about how families can fall apart when faced with hardships. It is also about how the magnificent trees of California captured the imagination of the world.

I loved the detailed descriptions of how James Goodenough struggles to get his orchard growing and producing enough apples to provide a living for his family.  James is forced to make hard decisions about which trees he should leave to their own devices, which he should graft to produce better apples in 3 years time, and which have to be sacrificed to ensure the orchard can survive. These decisions are made even harder as James loves the trees especially the ones that grow his favourite apple ,the Golden Pippin from England. And these decision leads him into conflict with his wife, Sadie, threatening to tear the family apart.

The book then moves to California and continues the story from the point of view of Robert Goodenough. Initially Robert goes to California for gold. Instead he finds something better: the giant Sequoia tree and the man who inspires his lifelong love of them, William Lobb. I really enjoyed the way the story focused on collecting seeds and saplings for export to England. Robert felt truly passionate about his trees and that shone through in the novel.

So why have I only given this 3 stars? Because while I absolutely loved the detailed description of the various trees and the way they were cultivated, for me the characters were rather flat and unlikeable and in some cases grotesque.

Who would like this book? I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in trees or in the historical time period during which the book is set. I would also add those who like a mix of fact and fiction as some of the characters are actually based on real people.

Bonus for me this book fulfills item  26 of the scavenger hunt – book with fruit on the cover.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: At the Edge of the Orchard

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I used to love her work but the last one I read felt flat, exactly as yiu said was yiur feeling about this one.


    March 11, 2016
  2. Sally Lemon #

    I really disliked it. Not a likable character in 50 pages. Didn’t waste my time going any farther.


    March 23, 2016

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