Book Review: The Woman in the Photo

The Woman in the Photo
Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Page Count: 432
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction novels that weave a past storyline with a modern storyline. Some of my favorite authors such as Sarah Jio and Deborah Lawrenson manage to combine history and contemporary in a compelling way. As such, I often jump at the chance to read new historical novels that take on this format. The Woman in the Photo focuses on the Gilded Age and modern day as a young woman searches for the keys to her identity as she learns about her birth family on her 18th birthday once her adoption records are unlocked.

The Gilded Age segment of the novel revolve around Elizabeth Haberlin, a young Pennsylvania woman, and her family as they spend time in the resort town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth's father is a lawyer to some of the biggest names of the Gilded Age, so she is used to vacationing alongside Carnegies and the like. Elizabeth chooses to fight against her station and the gender norms of her time whenever possible. Much to her parents' chagrin, she has a mind of her own and plans for her future that deviate from their careful crafted plans for her. She goes so far as to befriend a working class man and go against everything she has been raised to respect.

The contemporary segment of the novel focuses on Lee Parker, who has been left in the dark about her biological family's history due to her closed adoption. The newly unlocked records lead her down a path of discovery to find her heritage. She leaves California on a trail that will take her to Pennsylvania to find answers.

The concept of the novel fascinated me, but I had a difficult time connecting with the characters - particularly Elizabeth. I also found the writing to be a bit too flowery for my tastes. I felt as if I was drowning in adjectives and figurative language. 

In spite of my apathetic response to the writing style, I did enjoy the story of the flood and the Red Cross connection. The flood was an entirely new historical event for me. I was intrigued by the historical photographs that are included and felt they added a nice touch. The Gilded Age is not my favorite historical time period, so I did enjoy learning a bit more about it. 

One Last Gripe: Elizabeth's attitude irked me.

Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning about the flood

First Sentence: "Elizabeth, please."

Favorite Character: Lee

Least Favorite Character: Elizabeth

In this compulsively readable historical novel, from the author of the critically-acclaimed Two Sisters, comes the story of two young women—one in America’s Gilded Age, one in scrappy modern-day California—whose lives are linked by a single tragic afternoon in history.

1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.

Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?