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Reviewed by Barbara Harper for Readers' Favorite
The Life and Times of Rowan Daly by Rex Owens begins with an introduction to Rowan, known as Mrs. Dawson, a resident of Marion County, On. Her beloved Eli had been fatally wounded in a mining accident at the Hope mine. It is 1936 during the Great Depression and Rowan is paralyzed with fear, grieving, destitute, and has no one to turn to as all her relatives are deceased. During her depression, a woman named Florence Pruett gently and insistently takes Rowan under her wing, prodding Rowan forward and giving her a lifeline. In June 1936, the Works Progress Administration started the Pack Horse Librarian Project to deliver books to folks living in the hills of eastern Kentucky to improve literacy in the region. Rowan Daly is one of the first librarians to be hired by Florence. Florence would prove to be a hard taskmistress but one who is kind, intelligent, determined, hardworking, forward-thinking, and fearless. She recognized in Rowan a kindred spirit who required structure, routine, and good work for meaning in life and a sense of purpose. Rowan is provided with the necessary tools to carve out and map her destiny despite her fear and trepidation. She is presented with choices and will need to make up her own mind about the path she will choose, always swimming against the tide.
Rex Owens took me on a fast-paced journey, telling the story from Rowan’s perspective and using Florence as the driver and navigator of their journey. This story made me think of the song Lean on Me by Bill Withers, whose lyrics aptly describe the friendship between Florence and Rowan. Rowan breaks new ground, takes risks as she becomes her own person, does not conform to the rigid stereotypes of the time, and begins a legacy of paying it forward by lending a hand to other open-minded, free-thinking women. I can relate to Rowan as she was living in an era when there were very limited opportunities, and she was forced to ‘adapt or die,’ but chose to be a shining example. I also admire her for conquering her fears, for trusting Florence, and for grasping each opportunity with both hands and applying herself to each task with determination, enthusiasm, and humility. I think Florence was the driving force behind Rowan’s achievements as she was the one who coached, encouraged, and provided Rowan with the tools she needed to evolve, grow, and be comfortable in her own skin. This is an inspirational and insightful read as Rowan moves from dependence to co-dependence to independence. Fans who enjoy historical fiction will appreciate this book.