Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Published by Viking Press

5 stars


From internationally bestselling author Tracy Chevalier, a riveting drama of a pioneer family on the American frontier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck – in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.
1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert’s past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.

Chevalier tells a fierce, beautifully crafted story in At the Edge of the Orchard, her most graceful and richly imagined work yet.

On paper, this book should be dull. It’s primarily about trees: growing; grafting; harvesting; identifying.
However, I was completely swept up by this book from the opening page.

The first half of the book alternates between the perspectives of Sadie and James Goodenough, a married couple who are trying their best to survive and raise their children in swampland that has no regards for their plans.

The second half of the book follows the lives of their children. Robert is a very real and likable character. His hardworking and thoughtful nature have got him far in life but he has no real direction, eventually he has to make up his mind about what he wants in life and what he’s prepared to do to get it.

This book is about how he reaches that point and all the events that shape him leading up to it. It’s an irresistably human story with strong and vibrant characters living out their lives in a fascinating setting.


Chevalier has clearly done her homework when it comes to the world she has placed her characters in, she manages to make even the smallest details about apples and trees fascinating. Her writing style is simply beautiful and won me over in no time, it really brings the past back to life and makes you feel everything that the characters do.

This is a character led historical fiction, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the genre or someone just looking for beautiful writing – so much so that I’ll be buying a print copy of this book to sexy up my bookshelf.


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