Review: Lemons in the Garden of Love, by Ames Sheridan

About the book Lemons in the Garden of Love

Lemons in the Garden of Love

  • Publisher : She Writes Press (May 11, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 248 pages

It’s 1977 and Cassie Lyman, a graduate student in women’s history, is struggling to find a topic for her doctoral dissertation. When she discovers a trove of drawings, suffrage cartoons, letters, and diaries at Smith College belonging to Kate Easton, founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916, she believes she has located her subject.

Digging deeper into Kate’s life, Cassie learns that she and Kate are related―closely. Driven to understand why her family has never spoken of Kate, Cassie travels to Cape Ann to attend her sister’s shotgun wedding, where she questions her female relatives about Kate―only to find herself soon afterward in the same challenging situation Kate faced.

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About the author, Ames Sheldon

Ames SheldonAMES SHELDON: was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Wayzata, Minnesota. After graduating from Northrop Collegiate School, she attended Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in English. After graduating, she worked in the legal department of a chemical company, as a reporter at two newspapers, as office manager of a start-up auto salvage business, and eventually as a grant writer and development officer for a variety of nonprofit organizations, ranging from the Sierra Club in San Francisco to the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minneapolis Public Library. She has an M.A. in American Studies and was lead author and associate editor of the groundbreaking Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States (R.R. Bowker, 1979). In the process of working on this monumental reference book, Ames discovered her love of women’s history and of using primary sources for research. Her debut novel, Eleanor’s Wars, won the 2016 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Best New Voice: Fiction. Her second novel, Don’t Put the Boats Away, was published on August 27, 2019, by She Writes Press. Her third novel, Lemons in the Garden of Love, will be published in 2021.

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My Thoughts

As a woman who was given my mother’s vintage original copy (then little more than a pamphlet) of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and as a woman who has fought for reproductive rights my entire  adult life (often with my mother beside me) I was eager to read Lemons in the Garden of Love when it was offered to me for review. This, I thought, was a story I could really relate to.

The parallel stories of Cassie, a grad student in the 1970s, and her aunt Kate, several decades earlier, are compelling reading. Both women were intellectually curious, passionate, and trapped in marriages to cold men. Both women found themselves facing a similar challenge. And both women had to deal with family members who were slaves to conservative views of gender roles, at best, and generally dreadful, at worst.

What I loved about this novel, was that you could tell that author Ames Sheldon had a personal investment in the story. Indeed, she is so committed to reproductive rights and  women’s healthcare that fifty percent of the proceeds from this novel are being donated to Planned Parenthood. That’s an amazing legacy, but so is this novel, which captures the very different experiences of women in the earlier and more recent twentieth century. As well, I really appreciated the technical knowledge that Sheldon included in her story, like how to make your own diaphragm from liquid latex and a darning ring, as many of our great-grandmothers had to do.

Beyond the technical detail, however, I liked how distinctive the two main characters’ voices were. Cassie is very much a contemporary woman, even if the seventies are considered “historical” now (as someone born in 1970 I have difficulty with that), and Kate’s words in her journals are stiffer, and more formal, really cementing her in the early twentieth century.

Overall, I feel Lemons in the Garden of Love is an important read. We must know where we came from as we face an increasingly autocratic future. We must take care not to repeat the worst parts of our history, and honor the best. Most importantly, we must continue to tell our stories, our mothers’ and grandmothers’ stories, and those of our sisters in spirit.

Goes well with grilled chicken, asparagus, and sauteed mushrooms.

 

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Review: Lemons in the Garden of Love, by Ames Sheridan by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.