by Melanie Hoffert. $24.95; Beacon Press; 238 pages.
The faces in the pictures look back at you with hopeful, aching eagerness.
Ah, your high school annual is such a trove of memories. There you are at Senior Skip Day, making goofy faces. There's a picture of the class black sheep, now the president of the local bank; remembrances of prom, homecoming, first kisses and team spirit.
You haven't seen a lot of those kids since you graduated. Sometimes, you wonder if you really ever knew them. As in the new book Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert, you wonder if you ever really knew anything.
It may've seemed like the kind of idle conversation that friends have when they've known one another for ages, but Hoffert was dead-serious when she told her friend, Melissa, that they should return together to the prairie.
Hoffert surprised herself with her longing for home. She'd hated growing up on an isolated farm in North Dakota, 10 miles from grocery stores, three miles from playmates, a half days' drive to a major city. She hated small-town life then but, sitting in a cold office in Minneapolis, she realized how much she missed the farm and, most of all, harvest-time.
So she took a leave of absence from the job she loved. She wanted to be a farmer again. She wanted to touch the past.
But in reconnecting with memories of vast openness and the kind of silence that comes when neighbors are miles apart, Hoffert also rediscovered who she was, years ago. She knew at a young age that she was different from other girls: she figured she'd eventually kiss a boy, but she yearned for another kind of love. She dreamed of holding hands with a woman, and she became smitten with her best high school friend, Jessica.
Hoffert knew she couldn't talk about that to anyone on the prairie. That sort of thing just wasn't.
Coming home to North Dakota, she remembered that puppy love. She remembered how Jessica led her to Jesus, and the turmoil it created when she was told that homosexuality was a sin. She recalled her family, and marveled at how much had changed.
And she remembered neighbors: the ones who asked if she found a "fella" yet; corn farmers; homesteaders and homemakers; caretakers of the land.
When it comes to this books' title, "Prairie Silence" couldn't be more apt.
Author Melanie Hoffert has written a sure love letter to a land and its people, but it's love spurned and unrequited, as well as love held fast. In between Hoffert's sweet-yet-angst-driven memories and her journey of self-rediscovery, readers are treated to quiet reverence for a disappearing way of life, for faith that just couldn't last, and for folks whoto her surprisenever discouraged Hoffert from being who she was.
This is a gorgeous book that evokes quiet country mornings and loud self-examination, and this former farm girl enjoyed it thoroughly. If you once believed that you can't truly ever go home again, Prairie Silence is a book you'll be eager to read.
Want more? Then look for Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America by Jeff Chu.