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Sweet Annie by Cheryl St. John
(Harl. Historical #548, $4.99, PG) 0-373-29148-5
***
In Sweet Annie, the crippled daughter of the local banker, stiflingly pampered all of her life, falls in love with the man who gave her a moment of freedom on her tenth birthday. Their struggle to build a life together against the wishes of her family is touching and charming. Only a too-late-in-the-book complication and an unexplained change of attitude by a family member keep this book from a higher rating.

Annie Sweetwater was born with a deformed hip that makes it difficult to stand, so her parents have kept her in a wheelchair. They control every aspect of her life and treat her like a porcelain doll. Now twenty years old, she is frustrated with her situation but does not know how to change it.

The only time Annie has ever felt free was the first time she met Luke Carpenter. He had just come to live with his uncle Gil and the two of them arrived for a visit during Annie’s birthday party. Annie is off by herself watching the others have fun when Luke comes to talk with her. He offers her a ride on his horse, something she has never been allowed to do. When they arrive back at the party, Annie’s brother starts a fight with Luke and her parents order him to stay away from her. Annie is heartbroken.

Ten years later, Annie is staying with her aunt and uncle and her cousin Charmaine while her parents are out of town. Charmaine and Annie go to town and take their wagon to the new livery stable - owned by Luke Carpenter. Annie has not seen him since the horrible incident at her tenth birthday party. He offers to take them for ice cream before they go home and thus begins a secret courtship between the two.

Luke never forgot Annie. He has spent years trying to catch glimpses of her. When he finally gets the opportunity to spend time with her, he grabs it. His attention helps Annie get over her lack of self worth. He encourages her to try to stand and walk, even checking with one of the many doctors her parents have taken her to over the years to get ideas of how to strengthen her hips and legs. His attitude, that she can do anything she wants to do since she is an adult not a child, is particularly freeing.

For the majority of the book, the conflict is not between Annie and Luke but between the two of them and her parents and brother. Their love story and marriage is just beautiful, but I just knew that the other shoe had to drop and that a conflict would arise between the couple. When it did, their reactions seemed too severe considering all of the trust they had built up to that point. It was also very late in the story, so it felt rushed.

With the exception of Annie’s mother, the actions of the secondary characters were understandable. Both her father and brother thought they were protecting Annie from the world. St. John allows them to be real people, not villains, as each of them accepts that Annie and Luke are good together. Annie’s mother, however, did not change her opinion until very late and the motivation for the change wasn’t very clear.

The time period descriptions give a vivid picture of late 1800’s Colorado. The area around Luke and Annie’s house sounds like a spot for a great vacation home! A community dance, the scene of Annie’s first public acknowledgment of Luke, is also clearly portrayed.

Up until the last thirty pages, I liked this book a lot. Every woman should have a loving, hardworking guy like Luke. It is definitely worth reading, but I wish the last part had not felt so rushed.

--B. Kathy Leitle


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