Maggie Elizabeth Harrington

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington was written by D.J. Swykert and first published in 2013. In is a coming of age story set in an American mining town in the 1800s. The focus of the story is the title character – a thirteen year old girl from a poor family – as she experiences her first love. The novel also has a sequel – Alpha Wolves (2013) – which follows Maggie into young adulthood.

Maggie Elizabeth has never had an easy life. Her mother died while giving birth to her and she now lives with a father who never speaks to her and a very stern grandmother. Preferring her dreams to real life, Maggie has grown very adept at retreating into her own world in order to escape the grim reality of her life.

When a bounty hunter kills a she-wolf on the outskirts of town, Maggie and her two friends – Tommie and Annie – decide to rear her orphaned pups until they can survive from themselves. This mission gives Maggie’s life a new purpose. She has never really understood why people slaughter animals for no reason when the Bible teaches them never to kill and now is her chance to save the lives of four beautiful creatures.

As they care for the wolves, Maggie grows closer to Tommie and decides that she wants to spend her life with him. When disaster strikes and the wolves are discovered, the two of them head off into the wilderness to ensure that the creatures are not destroyed. They know that they have to keep ahead of the search party at their heels at all times because if they are caught, the wolves will be killed and they will never be allowed to be together.

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington is a very emotional and engrossing story. It is, at heart, a character study that shows the spiritual growth over a young girl over a very short period of time. Maggie is at that point in a girl’s life where she really need a strong confidant – an adult who they can look up to and ask the all-important life questions. As this influence is completely absent in Maggie’s life (her father will not even make small talk with her and her grandmother believes that children should be seen and not heard) Maggie is forced to confront the thoughts and feelings welling up inside her on her own.

Reality for Maggie is pretty grim. She lives in a world where death is impossible to escape; from disease, to mining accidents, to shoot-outs. Maggie’s understanding of death is deeply affected by her religion and this is not always a good thing. She has noticed that people go to Church on Sunday to beg forgiveness for things that they have done in the week but then still continue to do the same things. As she thinks about this hypocrisy, she begins to doubt the actions of the adults around her. The Bible says that you should not kill yet people slaughter animals all the time. This deeply troubles her and strengthens her resolve to save the wolf cubs, as surely God would not have made them just to die at a bounty hunter’s hands.

It is Maggie’s personality that really keeps the novel growing as she is a wonderfully strong character. She has lived a life of subservience, obeying her family and taking care of her father, but the wolves offer her a chance of rebellion. In caring from them, she knows that she is doing the opposite of what society would expect of her and this helps shape her resolve to be someone unique and independent.

However, I do have some personal issues with the way that Maggie is presented within the story. The story is incredibly repetitive and often repeats the same thing several times within a single paragraph, which in turn makes the paragraphs very long and often difficult to read. Over the course of the story you will hear certain things repeated time and time again, including Maggie’s hatred of the fact that her father drowned her kittens, Maggie’s desire to marry Tommie when she grows up and the fact that Annie is a very practical person. While I do understand that the author’s intention was to mirror the vocal patterns of a thirteen year old girl, I did not feel that this was very effective. It lost its charm very quickly and did little other than bog down the story.

I also sometimes had a little trouble grasping Maggie’s leaps of logic. The story, on a whole, read a lot like A Kestrel for a Knave, in that it used the raising on an animal as a way for a character to realise that they could live a better life. However, I could not really get my head around how Maggie could believe that everything would work out for her. She believed that rearing the wolves to adulthood would give her some kind of freedom but I don’t understand what she hoped to gain beyond her rebellion against the local bounty hunter. Maggie never really grasped that running away would destroy her chances of freedom, whatever the outcome. Whether she succeeded in saving the wolves or not (I’m not going to tell you how it all pans out here), she must have been aware that they would be returning home to furious family. It baffled me how, knowing the strictness of both her father and Tommie’s, she would ever be allowed to see Tommie again after their adventure came to an end.

All other characters in the story also came across as being somewhat shallow as they were all described from Maggie’s perspective. Unlike novels such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post which leave the reader enough scope to read between the lines and gain extra understanding of a character, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington does not portray them very far beyond Maggie’s initial impression. Annie is practical, Maggie’s father is quiet and the bounty hunter is just soulless. The only character that receives a decent amount of description is Tommie and this is because Maggie is utterly obsessed with him.

Her level of obsession went a little too far for my liking. I know it was a different time but Maggie is still incredibly young. At thirteen, a girl really isn’t having serious thoughts about marriage and having someone’s babies. The romance also seemed a little one sided as, while Tommie was attracted to her, he never seemed to love Maggie quite as much as she loved him. Maggie’s level of attraction also occasionally bordered on creepy as she describes feeling a “twinge in her groin” when she kisses Tommie. That is something that really does not bear thinking about. I don’t know what the age of consent was in America in the 1800s but I’m going to assume that it’s older than thirteen. While their relationship never advances beyond kissing and cuddling, I still thought that Maggie’s sexual feelings were a step too far as they dragged her obsession far out the innocent stage.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I guess I’ll wrap up. Maggie Elizabeth Harrington is a very moving story and features an incredibly sympathetic protagonist. Maggie is strong and independent, making her a great role model for a young teen. However, I did feel that the story let itself down a little in terms of narrative as this was often clumsy and repetitive, making the story feel that it was dragging more than it should have.

Maggie Elizabeth Harrington can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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