Book Review: Dear America: Christmas After All, The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift (Indianapolis, Indiana 1932) by Kathryn Lasky

christmasafterallThis DA diary is a very readable book. Set in Indianapolis, Indiana during the Great Depression, Minnie (short for Minerva) is the youngest of four sisters, with a younger brother. Her father is out of work and her mother has already had to close off half of the rooms in the house to save on coal/heating fees when yet another mouth to feed is added to the family. Minnie’s second cousin, tiny Willie Faye, arrives from Heart’s Bend, Texas – which has suffered greatly from the Dust Bowl – after she is orphaned. Minnie’s faith is most challenged when her father mysteriously disappears, but Willie Faye helps her through.

The rest of this character-driven diary – which takes place only over the course of several weeks (as opposed to other DA diaries which usually span a year or more) – is a recounting of many stories of Willie Faye and the Swift sisters and their beaus; their younger brother Ozzie, who is nearly a boy genius with his knowledge of physics and his laboratory inventions; as well as innumerable references to famous radio shows, films, actors and actresses, comedians, and other entertainment of the era. These references are presented under the motif that, during the Great Depression, people desired fantasy and entertainment to escape the harsh realities; people longed for “Christmas magic.”

There was one scene that stood out that I did not like,  when Minnie shows no sympathy for a friend whose father has just committed suicide. Instead of empathizing with her friend’s grief, she makes fun of how chubby her friend’s widowed mother was, and struggles not to burst out laughing at the word “bosoms” both while visiting the family in mourning and during a religious play. There is also an offensive reference to “fat” and “portly” women who try to tuck and hide all their fat into corsets, while Minnie boasts that her mother has such a nice, slender figure and does not even wear a corset.

There were, however, some beautiful stories from Willie Faye’s character, including one memorably poignant tale about a heifer giving birth on a snowy night.