Beyond The Divide

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
535 Pages
Reviewed on 01/22/2014
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Author Biography

    Book Review

Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers' Favorite

The Scanlons, Fitzpatricks, and Quinns represent a segment of American society in the latter half of the 19th century and their interaction with friends, neighbors, and others broadens our view regarding what was happening throughout most of the United States. In Beyond the Divide, J.P. Kenna portrays the effects of major events on the everyday lives of people from the point of view of a New Jersey Irish family. From the reconstruction and post-Civil War growth of industry to the social issues facing the poor, women, unappreciated working men, unmarried mothers, African-Americans, and many more groups, the Scanlon family weathers the changes. Their conversations and letters provide a rich depiction of their lives. From the heyday of the family patriarch, the Irish immigrant James Fitzpatrick, to the adventures in the expansion of the west experienced by his grandson, the growth of the labor movement and the role of politics, religion and money in the events that have shaped the course of this country are creatively, informatively and engagingly presented.

J.P. Kenna has created an engrossing history lesson through excellent story-telling and well-developed characters in Beyond the Divide. Painting clear pictures of life in urban New Jersey as well as the nearly virgin Northwest through the lives of varied yet highly believable characters, Kenna sets the action of his story against the major movements and players of the second half of the 19th century. Kenna creates the basis of social commentary regarding the rise of the vastly wealthy industrialists in contrast to the lives of the working man and farmer. He outlines how government, religion and natural human prejudices were bent to influence the outcome of elections, the course of social policies and the overall future of the American people. This is an excellent novel that deserves a careful reading and deep contemplation.

Michelle Robertson

Beyond The Divide by J.P. Kenna is a phenomenal historical fiction novel which introduces readers to the lifestyle, economy, and working classes of the 1880's era of the railroad. Mike has been able to comprehend his surroundings and conversations since he was very young, always being aware of his family's doings within the household such as mannerisms, emotions, conversations, habits, and movements. This allows him to develop a strong connection with his family, but especially with his older brother, Jimmy. When Jimmy follows his dream to join railroad and empire builder Jim Hill's push to the plains of Montana, Mike follows at age 16. Both men search for a new life in the west with the gold boom but not before enduring the stock market crash in 1893.

Author J.P. Kenna provides readers with an exciting and adventurous tale. Readers can expect to be transported into the late 1800s' lifestyle, societal tendencies, economic booms and declines, and a personal look into the life, mannerisms, language, work ethic, hardships, emotions, and dreams of the average American of that time; and the wealthy "tycoons" who made a lot of those dreams possible, and also diminished them at the same time.

Beyond the Divide is a book for lovers of the historical beginning of the railroad and the adventurous dream to expand west. The language use within the book is written to reference the society of the 1800s which allows readers to gain insight and grasp the full effect of each character and plot within the book. A wonderful book, taking readers back into a hard working, rough life of the railroaders and dream seekers of Americans in the late 1800s.

Bil Howard

Based in the time of the big boom of the 1880s, when railroads, trusts and monopolies ruled the American landscape, Beyond the Divide by J.P. Kenna paints a picture of the optimism and risk taking of entrepreneurs and the struggle of those who provided the labor for their ventures to get their fair share. Mike is just a boy and hanging on every word of his eldest brother Jimmy who is an integral part of Jim Hill’s westward march across Montana, over the Rockies and Cascades, opening his rail line to the Pacific Northwest. However, not long after the Cascades are breached, stocks and real estate prices go into a steep decline, setting off unprecedented labor disputes. Eugene Debs forms the American Railway Union, which attempts to bring Jim Hill to his knees. At age 16, Mike heads west to join his brother Jimmy in Alaska as the gold rush reaches into the Yukon.

J.P. Kenna does an excellent job of laying out the thoughts and feelings of the working man during this particular period of America’s history. His characters show the deep feelings and emotions that help bring the depth of history that is covered in this book to life. Though this is not an action packed thriller and is better suited to the more patient reader, readers will feel the ache of muscles and the frustration of working hard and having very little to show for it. Readers will also see how, in spite of the disputes and economic downturns, the Scanlon family continues to move forward, just as tens of thousands of families did in order to spread across the American continent and move the nation toward prosperity. In-depth, knowledgeable, and realistic, Beyond the Divide rewards the patient reader who loves American history told through the eyes of realistic though fictional characters that help bring life and emotion to what would otherwise be nothing more than facts and figures.

Kathryn Bennett

Beyond The Divide by J.P. Kenna is the second book in a series following the Scanlon family chronicles. The book takes readers into the 1880s, which were an optimistic time until the collapse that happened in the 1890s. We spend time with elder brother Jimmy as he is lured west and takes on the challenges that can be found there, while younger brother Mike misses the older brother that he admires. This time the story even takes us to the cold and wild lands of Alaska during the Yukon gold boom, as the brothers hope for something better along the Puget sound.

It is easy to feel yourself being enveloped in the Scanlon family. This is the perfect second segment in the series and truly serves to draw you further into the lives and stories of this family. It may be a historical fiction, but the way the story is developed makes the characters within it feel so real. For me that is the hallmark of a great story. Even the writing style adds to the feel that it is an old tale of an old family and we are invited to come into that era and stay a while. I think this book is easy for many to relate to because every family history has ups and downs. Show me any family in America (or the world) that has not had financial and emotional struggles at some point and I will ask if you are sure you have the entire story. If you want a book that is full of substance and unforgettable characters, I highly recommend the work of J.P. Kenna.

Carol Thompson

Kenna's book description says it better than I could. "The Scanlon family chronicles continue, taking the reader into the giddy optimism of the 1880s, followed by economic collapse in the 1890s. Mike is born in 1882. Soon after, older brother Jimmy is lured west. Direct rail connections to the Pacific Northwest challenge the barriers of the Rockies and the Cascade Mountains. At home, Mike mourns the absence of his idolized older brother, who by 1887 is taking part in 'Empire Builder' Jim Hill's westward push across the plains of Montana. Far off in Washington territory, the city of Fairhaven is poised to boom, anticipating the arrival of Hill's Great Northern Railway. Jimmy, enticing west his sweetheart from school years, envisions a prosperous new life there. By early 1893, Hill's rails breach the Cascades, reaching Puget Sound. Months later, stocks and real estate prices crash, shattering personal dreams and bringing about unprecedented labor strife. Eugene Debs forms the American Labor Union and takes on Jim Hill in the Great Northern strike of 1894. By 1897, when 16-year-old Mike heads west to join Jimmy in Alaska, desperate and disillusioned men are digging for gold up on the Yukon, or bringing their families out to the Utopian colonies forming along the shores and back bays of Puget Sound."

J.P. Kenna will pull you into Beyond the Divide in the first sentence, and you will want to stay until you reach the last sentence. It's the kind of book that I want to read over and over again. For anyone who enjoys history, railroads, or just a good read, it is well worth the time. The narration is excellent, the story engaging, and the author made me feel as if I was living the story. The characters are well developed, believable, and real. The plots are also well developed and believable. Kenna does not disappoint the reader. I highly recommend this book.