Reviewed by Krista Castner

When Frank and Jeanie Arthur flee Des Moines, Iowa with their young family in 1887, they are running headlong from a shameful scandal right into homesteading in the Dakota Territory; a task they are woefully unprepared for. What ensues is hardship and deprivation as Jeanie tries to make a home for their three pre-teen children, and Frank builds ‘air-castles’. The Last Letter, is told from two perspectives. We hear Jeanie’s perspective as she is bombarded with new homesteading challenges in 1887 and her now grown daughter, Katherine’s, perspective in 1905, Des Moines.

Frank and Jeanie both started out as spoiled adults with unrealistic expectations about how the real world works. Frank continues his spoiled ways as Jeanie starts to mature and works hard to provide the bare modicum of necessities for their family. They live in a dirt dugout which is quite a comedown for the women who used to write housekeeping hints and tricks books.

Everything on the Dakota prairie is new, and often dangerous to the family. The Arthurs join with other local homesteaders to form a local cooperative. The knowledge and support of the other community members is the only thing that stands between them and total disaster. Many natural disasters and tragic accidents occur during their time on the prairie. These events kept the story moving but they were often heart-wrenching. There wasn’t much of a respite for the reader, which is probably exactly how the homesteader’s felt.

I appreciated seeing Jeanie grow and mature as a character. She faced tough decisions and made them, unlike her wastrel husband whose continuing self-centeredness put the family at risk time and time again. The adult Katherine resents her mother because of choices made during their time on the prairie. But Katherine holds the resentment based on her childhood memories. Will that resentment be turned into forgiveness when she stumbles upon letters that provide a truer portrait of the struggles her mother faced?

The Last Letter is a work of historical fiction about the settling of the Dakota Territory. In addition to the homesteading experience, the author also captures the psychological challenges faced and conquered by a woman determined to do the best for her family in less than ideal circumstances. I felt like Jeanie’s emotions and reactions were genuine and fully considered. The book contains plenty of drama, it is well written and the story is compelling.

Rating: 4/5

Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by BookSparks PR. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.