*2012 GCLS Award winner in Historical Fiction
Hidden Truths is the continuation of the story in Jae's earlier award winning book Backwards to Oregon. While it is a good book, it shows the strengths and weaknesses of a sequel.
This entire book is about people hiding secrets. "Luke" Hamilton and "his" wife Nora have been living with their two daughters, Amy and Nattie, for over a decade in Oregon, where Luke is a successful rancher and respected member of the community. No one except Luke and Nora has any idea that Luke is not the man he pretends to be. Amy and Nattie are struggling to emerge as young women with their own futures, but they are living lives of deceit also. Nattie is hiding a love that she hopes will be solved by going away to college and Amy has struggled for years to fight the feelings she has for women.
Into this web walks Rika Aaldenberg. Rika has assumed the identity of a dead friend who was supposed to be the mail order bride of Phin, a hand on the Hamilton ranch and Luke's surrogate son. She arrives just after Luke and Phin have left to take horses to the army, so she will spend time on the ranch learning the lifestyle and getting to know the people, especially Amy. The new life that opens up to her is not the one she was counting on. When Luke arrives back home, he finds his family in crisis. The only way to resolve that crisis is for everyone to reveal their hidden truths, starting with Luke and Nora. No sacrifice is too great for one of their children…or is it?
Jae is an accomplished author who knows how to write long stories and develop characters completely. The advantage to a sequel is that she knows the characters well and can build on that information to extend the story. The disadvantage is that information can be skipped over in the assumption that the reader read the first book. This puts holes in the story that a new reader may not be able to fill in easily. Another drawback to the book is that, while scenes are well written, they aren't all necessary. There are a number that don't enhance the story or move it forward. They show information about the characters that is already known. For example, how many scenes have to be included to convey the idea that Amy is very skilled in handling and training horses? What is a good book could have been improved with tighter editing. A novel of over five hundred pages may be daunting to some readers, especially if they feel like the pace of the story is being slowed down by unnecessary scenes.
Hidden Truths is easy to read and tells a good story, especially appealing to those who read Backwards to Oregon. For those who like to immerse themselves in a book, this one fits the bill. For less patient readers, they may find themselves skipping over passages, but there is still a story to hold their interest.