by Blythe Robbins
Kula Baker can outrun a deer. She’s the daughter of an outlaw, part Native American, and determined to improve her station by marrying rich. Because the year is 1905, and unless a woman is born with money, inherits money, or marries money she’ll probably never have any, there aren’t a whole lot of options for Kula.
Kula hopes that her father will quit his bandit lifestyle and help her find her place in the world, but after explaining he has “one more job,” he sends her to work as a servant of an acquaintance. Frustrated and angry at first, Kula gradually begins to like her new life, at least until her father is arrested for murder and condemned to be hanged.
Spanning from Montana to California, Janet Fox’s Forgiven follows the journey of Kula Baker as she tries to help her father escape death. This historical novel evolves into part romance and part mystery as it leads the reader closer to the event that has the potential of destroying Kula: the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
For it’s to San Francisco that Kula’s father sends her after he’s been arrested, to find a secret box that has the potential to save him (and to which Kula has the only key). This box is a source of tension throughout the story–everyone wants it, but Kula (and we the readers) don’t know why until the very end.
Introduced to a Miss Everts by her recent employer, Kula manages to gain not only her help in finding the box (and temporary employment), but also a way of entering the rich society that she has always dreamed of. Introduced as an artist’s model, Kula meets gorgeous and rich Will Henderson, who showers her with attention and flattery.
Of course, you can’t be seventeen with only one romantic interest. Kula also meets handsome David Wong, who has an uncanny ability to appear whenever she needs help. David is Chinese, however, and even though Kula’s part-Native American status already sets her apart as an outsider, falling in love with David would give Kula no part of the rich, white world that she has set her sights on.
Each man represents a world that Kula is being drawn deeper and deeper into. David represents Chinatown, a part of San Francisco struggling in the new era, where human trafficking of children (especially females) is the norm. Countering this is the rich world of Nob Hill that sits on the hill above Chinatown. Comfortable in this world, Will has no desire to see what is staring him in the face everyday in his own city, and even in his own family.
Kula must decide which world she wants to be a part of. Does she want to face the truth of life around her? Or ignore it by surrounding herself with riches? Crucial to her decision is which man should be trusted. And which man really owns her heart.
The culmination of the story, of course, is the earthquake and its aftermath. These events reveal the true mystery surrounding the secret box and Kula’s father. If there’s anything negative to say about this book, it’s that there are a lot of details revealed at the end and it’s a bit difficult to follow. But the ending holds a surprise that I never expected, and it’s well worth reading. You definitely won’t forgive yourself if you don’t read Forgiven.
Blythe Robbins, a Californian living in New York City, is a geeky editor by day. At night, she can be found reading or writing YA fiction.
by Tirzah Price
Kula Baker has always lived on the edge of danger with an outlaw for a father. But now that she’s grown, she’s ready to go out into the world and make a respectable life for herself, where hopefully she’ll catch the eye of a rich young man who will marry her. But when her father refuses to leave outlawing, saying that he has one last piece of business to take care of, Kula is forced to go alone…only to witness her father being arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. Kula travels to San Francisco, hoping to find a man named Ty Wong and a mysterious box that will save her father…and ends up discovering long-buried secrets about her father she never expected.
Forgiven is a fast-paced and unique historical novel, with a strong and noble protagonist. Kula is headstrong and determined to save her father, but a little naive in her methods. After a life slightly outside of the law, she’s certain that marriage will give her the kind of respectability and security she craves. However, she is in for a few surprises as her romantic interests don’t always go the way she plans and she falls for a Chinese man. Their romance seems a little rushed, but it is sweet and complements the more dangerous aspects of the novel as Kula searches for her father’s box and in doing so, stumbles upon the darker side of turn of the century San Francisco with its human trafficking of female Chinese immigrants. That aspect, while horrifying, was a fascinating bit of history that Fox didn’t expound upon nearly enough. The book ends with the great earthquake that shook the city in 1906, which hurriedly forced the book to conclude realistically, but slightly unsatisfactorily. Forgiven is a book that contains an interesting, complicated narrator and some fascinating historical tidbits, but as a whole seemed a little disjointed. The companion novel, Faithful, was a much better read.
Tirzah Price is a sophomore at Ferris State University and blogs regularly at thecompulsivereader.com. If not reading or writing, she is most likely lurking around Twitter @compelledtoread.