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Tributary    by Barbara K. Richardson order for
by Barbara K. Richardson
Order:  USA  Can
Torrey House, 2012 (2012)
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Tributary begins in 1859 in Brigham City in the Utah Territory. A little six-year-old girl, Clair Martin, has been abandoned by her mother in a town full of Gentiles and miners, all men, and rescued by a Mormon Brother. A shy child with a large port wine stain on her face, she is brought to the Widow Anderson, who is delighted to have someone to do the work that she dislikes. Clair is taught home skills and religion without being given much affection until the widow dies when she's fourteen.

The Saints then place her with an elderly farmer, who doesn't mind the mark on her face as long as she keeps his clothes clean and pressed and prepares his meals. When he dies she is seventeen years old and tired of being passed from one so-called caretaker to another. She has met Ada Nuttall, who provides her with friendship and the means to become independent.

Clair Martin is such a wonderful character, from the time we meet her as a child until the last page of the book when she has grown somewhat older. We learn of her adventures from Brigham City to New Orleans to Mississippi and back to Utah, as she becomes much less shy and absolutely able to look out for herself and the child she takes under her wing in New Orleans. Already self-conscious about being marked, she endures cruel teasing and ostracism and comes to think of herself as ugly and sure to be unwanted by everyone, but she gradually learns that this is far from true.

She meets many people who try to convince her just how important and beautiful she is, and Clair loves beauty. She has an innate artistic talent that allows her to appreciate the joy and wonder in the world and to create lovely things. All those sad hours that she spent learning homemaking skills from the widow, skills that the widow told her had to be better than those of other girls because of her mark, pay off when she's able to free herself from the Mormon Brothers and their strict misogynistic teachings.

Clair's story is so compelling that I had a hard time putting it down each night at bedtime and then I'd lie awake and wonder about what would happen next. This is indeed a historical novel that brings the history right into the reader's present time, as though more than a hundred years had not passed. Not only do we love Clair and want her to find her happy life, but we also learn to care about those she loves.

Written with style and elegance, Tributary is a book that I would recommend with no reservations to all of my friends and family. Not only did I love Clair's story, but I also learned much about the Utah Territory, New Orleans, and the South right after the War Between the States, as well as the Native American tribes who were displaced by the Mormons as they migrated to the west, and, of course, the Saints and their early treatment of women.

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