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The Bridge at Valentine
by Renee Thompson

Published: 2010-08-01
Paperback : 240 pages
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In this remarkable retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, The Bridge at Valentine presents a realistic and poignant portrayal of life in 1890's Idaho. July Caldwell, the daughter of a sheepman, and Rory Morrow, the son of a cattleman, find themselves embroiled in their fathers' bitter feud to ...
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In this remarkable retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, The Bridge at Valentine presents a realistic and poignant portrayal of life in 1890's Idaho. July Caldwell, the daughter of a sheepman, and Rory Morrow, the son of a cattleman, find themselves embroiled in their fathers' bitter feud to control the rangeland. The battle over grazing rights pits family against family, resulting in a tragedy from which July and Rory struggle to recover. But with tragedy comes triumph and hope for the future--and ultimately, a young woman's determination to strike out on her own.

Editorial Review

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Everyone sat in silence, not quite certain where to next take the conversation. Preston again glanced at July. He cleared his throat and coughed into his fist. The cue wasn’t lost on Eliza, for it was she who sensed the real reason for his visit, she who suggested July and Doctor Forbes retire to the porch for a cup of hot chocolate. “I’ll make yours with top-milk, July,” she said, knowing she liked it that way. When July reminded her mother she hadn’t yet finished her chores nor carded the mattress on Lilly’s old bed, Isaac rose from his chair. “Take our guest to the porch,” he said. “Your mother’s bringing hot chocolate.”

July looked at Richard, the distress in his face. There was little he could do to help her without revealing her secret, and so he said nothing when she led the doctor away. She sat in her father’s rocker, angling herself in such a way that she was as far from Preston as possible. She declined to look at him when he sat on the swing by himself. Back and forth he went, the springs squeaking with each annoying sway. July sat firm, staring into the distance, her mouth set in a resentful knot. She felt his eyes on her, wandering up and down her shirtwaist. He too no doubt, wondered about the scar between her breasts.

He leaned forward, twirled his hat between his hands. As though reading her thoughts, he said, “You know, July, I’m not so awful as you think.”

She looked over at that, viewed him with harsh eyes. “And I’m not so good as you think.”

“I don’t believe that.” He offered a small smile. Seeing she was serious, he said, “How bad can you be? You’re a Mormon, aren’t you?”

“Not a very good one – I’ve lied to my folks a few times now, and done other things too.” The admission softened her some, and she shifted slightly in his direction.

Preston’s fingers slowed their twirling. When it seemed he’d make no reply to her confession she told him she didn’t understand why he kept coming out to the ranch, anyway. “You can have any woman you want in Morning Tree,” she told him. “Lilly’s crazy about you, though she’s going to New York soon and you’ve missed your chance with her.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m telling you Pa won’t give you permission to marry me, if that’s what you’re here for. I’m only fifteen, you know.” She said nothing about sixteen being a more suitable age – the age when she’d likely marry Rory – seeing as how she had no interest in steering Preston’s thoughts in that direction.

“Who said anything about marriage?”

His remark took her aback and her cheeks blazed. She thought maybe she’d misread him, but then she spied the tremble of his bottom lip and knew he couldn’t feign surprise much longer. “Why’d you come if not to court me?”

“To tell your pa about Mads Larson,” he said. He ran a finger beneath his collar, stretching it from his throat.

“I guess that makes us both liars then.”

Preston thought on this a while. There was uncertainty in his voice when he spoke. “I’d not realized you were so mature, July. You’ve grown a great deal this year.”

“Did you think you were proposing to a child?”

“No, no, never.” His whole body set to quivering. He rose from the swing and bent to his knees at her side. Taking her hand and holding it to his chest, he said, “I understand if you don’t feel ready, but I’ll wait for you forever if you’ll have me.”

Gently, she pulled away. “I’m sorry, Preston, I don’t love you.”

He again reached for her hand, gripping it tighter. “You’ll learn to love me, I know you will.”

“Preston –”

“I love you, July,” he said, edging closer. “My arms ache to hold you – my lips – ”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she said, pushing him away.

He gripped her arms in a desperate clasp and pulled her toward him. Quickly, before she could object, he placed his hand behind her head, drew her near, and kissed her with a ferocity that rattled her teeth. With his lips crushing hers, she pushed hard against him, wrenching her mouth away. He grasped her harder still, and when her garbled protests became cries he let her go as quickly as he’d grabbed her. She lurched forward from her chair, landing hard on her hands and knees. He scrambled to help her up. “Good Lord, July, I’m so sorry. I never meant to – ”

“Get away!” she cried, pushing to her feet and swiping her mouth.

Isaac bolted through the kitchen door, Eliza at his heels. “Hell sakes! What’s all the yellin about?” His eyes traveled from July’s disheveled hair and the red splotch rimming her mouth to the frantic expression worn by Preston Forbes.

“I won’t marry him!” she screeched. “I’ll never marry him!” At last, the truth came tumbling out. “Rory Morrow’s already asked me – he’s coming to fetch me in June!”

Eliza’s face turned ashen. “You don’t know what you’re saying, July.”

“I do know. I’ve known since the day I snuck off to Valentine to meet him.” She looked toward the yard, where her little brother stood. “How do you think Raymond got my hat? He found it, is how – found it behind the trunk in the barn, where I hid it.” Her eyes flicked from her mother’s to her father’s. “I won’t lie anymore – I’ll tell you straight out I didn’t go to Valentine to find it, I went to meet Rory, for I knew that day at the picnic there was something between us – something special, Pa, like you used to have with Ma.”

That last part slipped out unexpectedly and July knew in an instant she’d gone too far. Isaac took one step forward and slapped her so fast she scarcely saw it coming. The blow sent her reeling. She tumbled to the ground, landing hard on one hip. A cascade of hair spilled across her face. Preston again lurched forward to offer assistance, but Isaac plunged his hand against the doctor’s chest. Preston hesitated, obliging only after Isaac lifted one fierce eyebrow. “Mount your horse,” he ordered, “and ride out of here.”

Preston glanced across the yard, saw Tom striding toward him.

“I’ll leave of my own accord, Tom,” Preston told him. He placed his hat on his head, gave it a pat, and walked toward his horse.

Daniel and Pun now joined Richard and Raymond in the middle of the yard, the four of them watching Preston’s departure, intending to gauge his courage by the dust his horse kicked up. They expected to see plenty of it, but to everyone’s surprise hardly any rose at all. He rode calmly away, as though the encounter with Isaac hadn’t rattled him one bit.

One by one, the quartet looked over at July. Seeing her sobbing on the porch, her tears wetting the hard wooden ground, wrenched their hearts plenty. Slowly, they turned their accusing eyes to her father.

Isaac’s brow thickened and his face turned dark. “You all got work to do,” he flared. “Get yourselves to it.” Copyright 2010 Renée Thompson view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the Author:

1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
2. What characteristics attracted July to Rory, and Rory to July?
3. The author created a protagonist willing to oppose her Mormon father to love a Gentile, while conveying the message that women trapped by fate or circumstance always have a choice, but with choice comes consequence. What choices might July have made to change the outcome of the story?
4. What choices might Rory have made to change the outcome of the story?
5. How was July’s relationship with her father different from that with her mother?
6. If you were July, would you forgive your father for keeping you from the man you loved? Did Isaac deserve forgiveness?
7. Was Preston a good husband to July? A good father to Vallie?
8. July tells Pun at the end of the book that he was like a father to her. How was this specifically so?
9. The author has said she wrote the book, in part, to explore how trouble comes not from the head, but the heart. In which cases did July use her heart to make decisions, and what impact did this have on her relationships?
10. Are young adults today still pressured to follow in the footsteps of their parents, and if so, how?
11. What are the corollaries between the land conservation battles we’re fighting today and those fought in 1890?
12. Discuss July’s relationship to the land.
13. Did the author confront or change your mind about any political, economic, social, or cultural beliefs you may have held with regard to race, religion, gender or class?
14. Which scenes were the most memorable? The most inspiring?
15. Was the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
16. What do you think the future holds for July and her daughter Vallie?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the Author:

I had just read John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, an allegorical novel in which Steinbeck combined biography and fiction, a notion I found intriguing. As it happened, I had also just finished reading my grandmother’s Book of Remembrance – a Mormon journal of sorts, in which she described her life as a young girl in Idaho. Her father, a sheepman, recounted a story in which a cattleman named Alex Durty shot and killed another sheepman, Tom Nook. After reading this, it occurred to me I could do what Steinbeck had done – employ the use of a classic template – in his case, the story of Cain and Abel, from the Book of Genesis, and in mine, Romeo and Juliet, from the play of the same name – to structure a story and make it my own. The result is THE BRIDGE AT VALENTINE.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "The Bridge At Valentine"by mcbrenner1 (see profile) 11/16/10

An easy read that kept me interested in finding out how it would end. Typical love story. Characters very well defined.

  "Enjoyed this book!"by amacon (see profile) 01/08/11

  "The Bridge at Valentine"by tboyd (see profile) 01/07/11

Slow to start but overall a good story with several interesting twists that kept me reading.

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