Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women’s Stories begins 500 miles away from its heart in Dayton, Ohio, as the author, Pamela Ferris-Olson, transports us to a summer evening at Staten Island. Here, sitting beside her waiting for the ferry, she tells us of the thoughts that drove her to writing the pages that follow, of how she seeks to pull upon the common song in the human heart to introduce three special women to the reader, in a search for not just tolerance, but human understanding and awareness.
Contained within the 306 pages of this book are the stories of three minority women, each with a different ethnic and personal background, each with their own unique struggle. Nancy, a Native American, seeks a better life than her Seneca reservation can afford, joining the Navy at a young age, and though she deals with abusive relationships and the struggles of being a single mother to several children, she discovers that “people have the power to affect the direction of their lives.” From a devout Muslim family comes Ife, whose youth was a struggle for identity and self-pride, and whose adulthood seeks to further strengthen her independence as a woman of God and to complete her education. Finally, there is Ellyn, a young Korean born with a cleft-palate and adopted into an American family, seeking out her cultural identity and learning to have two loving families from separate worlds.
The book speaks like its cover: calmly, with big, dark eyes looking back at you, full lips curling into a hopeful smile, and the slight grace of the pearl necklace around the neck. Pamela’s style is clear and concise; she makes no efforts to exaggerate the stories of these women. Instead, each story speaks kindly, offering each tale simply but with a telling narrative that seeks to de-emphasize the author’s presence and focus instead on highlight the voice of these women.
Of special note is the author’s skillful weaving of the voices of other women into each narrative. The story of Nancy is interspersed with the thoughts and concerns of the woman’s eldest daughter, presented in a blog format; Ife’s story offers the insights of several other Muslim women. Ellyn’s story leaves the author behind almost entirely as it alternates between her adoptive mother’s letters to her growing daughter, Ellyn’s own narrative, the responses of another Korean girl to Ellyn’s story, and the letters from her birth mother and sister.
From the moment Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women’s Stories was on the way to my mailbox, I was full of anticipation for this story. I adore hearing, reading, and feeling the experience of other people, especially women who have not only made it through their internal and external adversity, but have grown in the process. Pamela Ferris-Olson’s story-telling skills did not disappoint; and by the time I came to understand even the author’s own growth through writing this book, I had also undergone my own journey guided by her words.
If you are seeking a story of inspiration, if you are looking for motivation, or if you simply need something to lift yourself from the dark spirits of adversity surrounding you, this book belongs on your shelf. Living in the Heartland is both sustaining and educating, and is truly a “must read.”
- Buy this book on Amazon (available in print and on Kindle)
- Visit the author’s blog
- Follow the author on Twitter
A review copy of this book was provided.