2 reviews

We Hope for Better Things
by Erin Bartels

Published: 2019-01-01
Paperback : 400 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 2 members
"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"A forbidden interracial marriage, an escaped slave, an expectant mother waiting for ...
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"In this powerful first novel . . . Bartels successfully weaves American history into a deeply moving story of heartbreak, long-held secrets, and the bonds of family."--Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"A forbidden interracial marriage, an escaped slave, an expectant mother waiting for her Union soldier to return--all of these stories are deftly told by Bartels, as she explores the hard realities of racism and its many faces during various eras of American history. . . .Compelling characters make this winning debut also appealing for fans of general historical fiction."--Library Journal

"Bartels' debut tells the story of three Balsam women, each of a different era, told against the backdrop of racism and violence in America. . . .will appeal to fans of faith-based women's fiction authors like Colleen Coble."--Booklist


When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request--that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos--seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse north of Detroit, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Michigan's Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.


"We Hope for Better Things has it all: fabulous storytelling, an emotional impact that lingers long after you turn the last page, and a setting that immerses you. I haven't read such a powerful, moving story since I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. This book will change how you look at the world we live in. Highly recommended!"--Colleen Coble, USAToday bestselling author of the Rock Harbor series and The View from Rainshadow Bay

"A timely exploration of race in America, We Hope for Better Things is an exercise of empathy that will shape many a soul."--Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Perennials

"I applaud [Erin's] courage, her authenticity, her beautiful turn of phrase, the freshness of her imagery, and the depth of her story that speaks to a contemporary world where understanding is often absent. We Hope for Better Things is a remarkable debut novel."--Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of Everything She Didn't Say

"Erin Bartels's We Hope for Better Things shares the joys and sorrows of three women from different generations. A roller coaster of emotions awaits as you share the lives of these women and hope along with them for better things."--Ann H. Gabhart, bestselling author of River to Redemption

"Storytelling at its finest. Erin Bartels delivers a riveting story of forbidden love, family bonds, racial injustice, and the power of forgiveness. We Hope for Better Things is a timely, sobering, moving account of how far we've come . . . and how much distance remains to be covered. A compulsively readable, incredibly powerful novel."--Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author of The Life List

"There is the Detroit we think we know, and there is the Detroit full of stories that are never brought to the forefront. With We Hope for Better Things, Erin Bartels brings full circle an understanding of contemporary Detroit firmly rooted in the past, with enthralling characters and acute attention to detail. It's a must not just for Detroit lovers but also for those who need to understand that Detroit history is also American history."--Aaron Foley, city of Detroit's chief storyteller and editor of The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Detroit, July
The Lafayette Coney Island was not a comfortable place to be early. It wasn’t a comfortable place, period. It was cramped and dingy and packed, and seat saving, such as I was attempting at the lunch rush, was not appreciated. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Though they live in different eras, Elizabeth, Nora, and Mary encounter many of the same problems and must make hard choices. When faced with problems in your own life, to whom do you turn for guidance? To whom did Elizabeth, Nora, and Mary turn? How did it work out?

2. In several scenes, people are invited into one another’s homes. Elizabeth at Nora’s home. Fugitive slaves in Mary’s. Young Nora at William’s home in Detroit. William at Nora’s parents’ house. Who shows genuine hospitality? Who do you welcome into your home? When have you found it difficult to show hospitality to someone?

3. Religious belief and religious people in this story are complicated. For instance, Rev. Whittaker applauds Mary for her abolitionist beliefs, and indeed the abolitionists movement had strong roots in Christian faith communities, but he would prefer that blacks and whites worship separately. How has the church failed in its response to racism and inequality? Where has it succeeded?

4. A common and problematic motif in literature and film that deals with racial inequality is that o the White Savior. Which characters in this story might see themselves in that role, whether intentionally or unintentionally? What are things they could have done differently in order to avoid placing themselves in that role? What scenes did black characters resist that dynamic? How did they show agency over their own lives and futures?

5. In this story, both white and black characters show that they have prejudices and fears when it comes to the other race. How are these prejudices and fears developed? Which seem legitimate to you? Why?

6. During the story the question is asked whether the events of our lives and indeed of history are all just random and chaotic or if there is some overarching plan being worked out. What are your beliefs on this? How do these beliefs affect the way you live your everyday life?

7. To what extent do you think people are the products of their times when it comes to racism? Does that have any effect on their culpability for perpetuating injustice? In other words, do right and wrong beliefs and/or behavior change as the culture changes? Or are some things constant? Why?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

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by Rebecca S. (see profile) 02/15/20

by ELIZABETH V. (see profile) 04/29/19

“We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.” That is Detroit’s motto. And it is so appropriate, also, to this book, three different stories about three women, all related ... (read more)

  "We Hope For Better Things"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 01/19/19

A box of photos, an elderly aunt the main character didn’t know about, and an old house.??

Was it fate that Elizabeth had lost her job as a journalist because of a story she was c

... (read more)

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