WNC Woman Magazine Book Review

CoverDec12WEB-smallBook Review

Gate to Nowhere by Leanna Sain

Reviewed by Mary Ickes

Gate to Nowhere, the first book in Ms. Sain’s time-travel series, won ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Award. (Foreword Magazine introduces books from small, independent, and university presses to librarians and booksellers.) Ms. Sain says, “I didn’t even know that Twilight Times, my publisher, had entered Gate to Nowhere until afterwards. I never thought that I had a chance to win — especially since this is my first book.” This past October, she received notice that Gate to Nowhere won the coveted 2012 Clark Cox Historical Fiction Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians, Inc. (These awards are presented to authors who have published a significant work of fiction based on actual historical events, places and/or individuals in North Carolina History.)

Return to Nowhere, the second book, was nominated for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award and Magnolia Blossoms, the final book in the series, for the Global Ebook Award. All three books concern young women steadfast in attaining their goals.

As her story opens, city girl Emma Franklin bumps and grumps her Jeep over a deserted country road seeking an oval sign, hanging between two pillars, announcing Golden Apple Farm. Discarding her realtor’s worthless directions, she soon glimpses the pillars and sign enveloped in poison ivy. Forcing her Jeep through vines the size of her arm, Emma emerges into a long-deserted homestead. Despite the imposing house and barn, she is attracted to a gate that … had no fence attached … no semblance of a fence anywhere. Who would put a gate all by itself in the middle of a flower garden? That gate, Emma quickly learns, is the first of many mysteries.

Not until she inherited Golden Apple Farm two weeks earlier, did Emma learn that G-Jane, her grandmother, owned 200 acres in Western North Carolina. Why did she abandon this valuable and scenic property? In the secret compartment of a desk, Emma discovers the journals of her great-great-great grandfather, Gavin Douglas MacKinlay, age twenty-five, previously of Loch Lomand, Scotland. He immigrated in 1817 to the United States and discovered gold that he invested in apple farming. To acknowledge his philanthropy, the citizens of Nowhere, in 1827, renamed their town MacKinlay and dedicated his bronze likeness in the public square. Three days later, the same people accused Gavin of vicious deeds that he never even considered, let alone committed.

Gavin’s final entry reads: “I have an idea of who’s responsible for the mess my life has become. Tonight, I will see if my suspicion is right!”

Finally, Emma discovers secreted in G-Jane’s Bible a note explaining that she fled because of her grandfather:
“… farewell to my beautiful home – I will miss you. It could’ve been so different, if not for the evil in his heart.”

Emma is further bewildered when she drives into MacKinlay the next morning for supplies and, she hopes, to make friends. Instead, everyone rudely ignores her as if she is invisible. While the grocery clerk pointedly chats with customers in front of Emma and behind her, she finds, in the magazine rack, From Nowhere to MacKinlay – a History
of MacKinlay, North Carolina
, by Michael Ellis MacKinlay. Rather than providing answers, Ellis (he legally dropped his last name) condemns Gavin MacKinlay, his father, as “… a ruthless dictator, rogue and womanizer, leaving several community girls as unwed mothers. “… The ill-treatment and wrath he meted out to his employees … was described with hateful detail and that apparently happened after the renaming of the town.” Since Michael Ellis is the grandfather who tormented G-Jane, he learned well from his father.

To quell her frustration, Emma turns to the practical details of exploring her new home and settling in. After her thorough cleaning, the house’s “… woodwork glowed, seeming to radiate a warmth of its own …” Still sturdy and sound, the barn and adjacent building are obviously the legacy of a proud farmer. To her growing list of tasks, she adds rescuing the pinks, Sweet Williams, and daisies peering through jumbled weeds. Her exploration ending at the gate, Emma attacks the lock with WD-40 and the frame with swift kicks and hip shoves, all to no avail. Why, Emma wonders, is she so intimidated by a rusty old gate that should have been demolished years ago?

A few nights later, while admiring a silvery moon’s landscape, the gate stands open, and out the door she races. Emma awakens in a pasture surrounded by grazing cows contained by the gate, shiny and new, attached to a split rail fence. Beyond the gate, stands her house in pristine condition; men painted her barn red. “Can I help ye, lad?” booms a voice from behind. Emma whirls around to face a man dressed in “… those old-fashioned farmer things that always looked too big, held up with suspenders.” He is as amazed to see that his guest is a young woman as Emma is to be there – wherever there is – but he quickly recovers, introduces himself as Gavin MacKinlay, and invites her to tea. Convinced that she needs antidepressants… anti-psychotics or anti-something … Emma manages to introduce herself and accept his invitation.

Grace, his housekeeper – more astonished by a young lady wearing pants than mysteriously appearing in a cow pasture – serves a scrumptious tea that Emma devours. Dodging Gavin’s request for an explanation she asks for his story which, except for one crucial detail, parallels his journals. How can this kindly man be her ancestor still loathed by the town of MacKinlay and the monster in Ellis’ book? Then again, if she really has time traveled from 2004 to 1827 – she’s still not convinced – anything is possible. Assisted by Grace, Emma discovers that the gate will open again on the next full moon, giving her thirty days to solve the mystery.

As the month passes, Grace and Gavin mentor Emma in early nineteenth-century life and she them about living in 2004, understandably beyond their comprehension. Grace begins with dressing Emma like a proper lady. Under her tutelage, Emma dons drawers; a chemise; a petticoat; a boned stay tightened by Grace; more petticoats and, finally, an elegant dress trimmed with handmade lace. She can hardly believe that the lovely lady in the mirror is her. Emma’s request for spinning lessons begins with learning the process leading up to the spinning wheel, from shearing the sheep to washing and carding the wool. Emma concludes: “Pioneer women were to be admired as much for their strength and stamina as anything else …” Grace agrees that Emma may feed the chickens – and then rolls her out of bed promptly at 5:00 a.m.

From Gavin, Emma learns that “Ye’ve got to give back to the land. Too much taking and never any giving robs all the good out of the earth.”

Golden Apple Farm, the epitome of harmonious self-sustainment, testifies to his sincerity. His animals, from the beef cattle who greeted Emma, to his goats, chickens, and horses are clean and healthy. Even the barn cats have “… a sleek, well-fed look.” Because he composts manure, his vegetable and herb gardens and fields of oats, hay, and corn produce abundantly. A spring house cools milk and butter and keeps root vegetables fresh during the winter. Most importantly, Gavin gives back to his workers. Practically insulted when Emma asks if they are slaves, Gavin retorts, “How could it be right for anyone to own another person? … they work for me … but they’re free to go at any time.” Emma greatly admires and respects her principled ancestor – and fears for his life.

Gate to Nowhere, Reading Friends, reads well on various levels framed by a battle between good and evil: as a time travel fantasy, a primer in women’s historical contributions, and an agricultural treatise for our current environmental issues. And you just may find a love story along the way!

Lest I ruin the story line of the three novels, only general plot lines are permissible. In Return to Nowhere, seventeen-year-old Charlotte can achieve her goal of becoming a doctor only by learning Cherokee green medicine, but the Cherokees have long since disappeared on the Trail of Tears. Maggie, in Magnolia Blossoms, meets the ghost of a Civil War soldier shot for desertion, but she is determined to prove his innocence. Like Emma, they time travel through the mysterious gate into eras depicted with the same penchant for historical accuracy that Ms. Sain demonstrates in Gate to Nowhere.

Leanna Sain lives on her small organic farm nestled in the Mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband Randy, a herd of dairy goats, and a flock of happy chickens. With her youngest just off to college, she battles the empty nest syndrome by keeping very busy. She currently has a novel under a publisher’s consideration, another completed novel, and two others in varying levels of readiness.

Please see LeannaSain.com for updates.

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