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Book Review: Awake Unto Me by Kathleen Knowles

Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 22:00

Two young women in turn-of-the-century San Francisco come of age, struggle to find their feet, and find each other. Kerry had a rough beginning, often on the far side of the law, and more comfortable taken for a boy in trousers than playing the girl. Only a chance alliance between her father and an up-and-coming doctor gave her a chance at a way out of the rough Barbary Coast neighborhood. Beth’s strict middle-class upbringing gave her a surer future, but one where she struggled to make her own choices even as a brilliant nursing student. Both are drawn to each other, but only Kerry knows the truth of the desire they both feel.

Although Awake Unto Me is marketed as a romance, it feels much more like a bildungsroman in structure--a coming of age story that only happens to include romantic and erotic encounters as part of the two women’s exploration of the world. It may sound odd to say so, I but I would have found the story equally satisfying if those encounters had not been structured as the culmination of the plot, but had simply been an integral part of Kerry and Beth’s growing understanding of their identities and desires.

The writing style is spare and straightforward. The historic background was solidly researched if occasionally explained in more detail than necessary. I did wince a few times at historically-accurate but unchallenged bigotry expressed by secondary characters with regard to ethnicity and religion and the secondary characters tended to function primarily as setting.

Awake Until me does a good job at providing a window into a variety of women’s lives in historic San Francisco, for those interested in exploring history through women-centered lives.

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