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BookMark: "To the Stars Through Difficulties" By Romalyn Tilghman

Cheryl Bazzoui head shot and "To the Stars Through Difficulties" cover

In her debut novel, “To the Stars Through Difficulties,” Romalyn Tilghman weaves parallel stories into a suspenseful novel. The historical part delves into the building of the Carnegie Libraries in Kansas. The fund-raising efforts of the Kansas frontier women are well-researched and poignant. The present day part of the novel follows the struggles of three women from totally different socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds. Fate seems to bring Traci from New York City, Angelina from Philadelphia, and Gayle from nearby Prairie Hill - together in New Hope, Kansas. All three are facing difficulties as they come to town. Tensions mount, self-doubt builds and suspicion runs rampant.

Angelina travels to New Hope, against her widowed mother’s wishes, as a last ditch effort to make her life count for something. Her diligent efforts to complete the thesis for her PhD, her conniving mother, and several other stressors attack Angelina’s self-esteem daily. Her father had grown up in New Hope, and she remembers their one blissful visit to the town when she was about nine. Her mother had refused to go along, and threatened Angelina’s dad with divorce if he dared ever visit again.

Traci gets a job in New Hope as artist–in-resident for the summer. She lies on her resume and is shocked when the New Hope library committee hires her. She’s never taught or taken an art class. Traci wings it for the first few days by tapping into her sensitivity to others’ feelings, innate kindness, and creative artistic ideas. She was a discarded newborn, found naked in a trash can in Times Square. She was adopted by a family with a young son. He called her “Trash” and that nickname stuck. Traci ran away when she was 16 and gained a small following in New York City for her ability to create art out of trash. She feels unworthy and has the lowest self-esteem imaginable. Even though she becomes very ill during her summer in New Hope, coming there proves to be the best thing that has ever happened to her.

Gayle is a native mid-westerner who has lived in nearby Prairie Hill, Kansas all her life. After a tornado hits the town, nothing is left standing. She and her husband escape injury, but they lose everything. Gayle suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Every time she hears a tractor running, she re-lives the trauma of the tornado barreling its way through Prairie Hill. She feels hopeless until she starts attending the quilting circle at the New Hope Community Center.

The trivia sprinkled throughout the novel about the Carnegie Libraries is fascinating. And, interestingly, the title: “To the Stars Through Difficulties,” is the Kansas state motto.

I highly recommend this novel.  The ending reveals a twist I didn’t see coming. A warning though: the first pages didn’t grab me, but its slow start is necessary to set up the story. I am glad I gave it a chance and kept reading this wonderful novel! 

“To the Stars Through Difficulties” by Romalyn Tilghman was published by She Writes Press in April.

Reviewer Cheryl Bazzoui lives in Bradford. She’s also a writer and goes by the pen name Ann McCauley.

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