Examining love and a beloved building

Snow Country:

A Copper Island Novel, One

By Kristin Neva

Snow Country is Kristin Neva’s debut novel. Neva was born and raised on Copper Island (the northern Keweenaw Peninsula), so she knows what she writes about. The novel is aptly named since it takes place during a long U.P. winter.

The story begins in California where Beth Dawson is dumped by her fiancé just weeks before their wedding. Heartbroken, she quits her job since she and her fiancé both worked at the same place and takes up a mission from her mother—go to the U.P. to convince her grandmother to move to California. At first, Beth is focused on her mission, but it doesn’t last long, especially once she meets an attractive policeman named Danny Johnson.

Beth is a Christian so she has certain beliefs about dating, largely influenced by her reading books by Dr. Benley about intimacy in marriage. Benley is a Christian writer who strongly believes not only in chastity before marriage, but specific time frames for different stages in relationships. Beth followed all of Dr. Benley’s rules in her relationship with her fiancé, and although the relationship didn’t work out, she still wants to follow them, including that you do not date anyone new for six months after a breakup.

But Beth can’t help feeling attracted to Danny, especially since he’s like her grandmother’s adopted grandson and keeps coming over to the house. Plus, it’s a small town so she keeps bumping into him everywhere. Eventually, she gives in and agrees to go with him to a Christian country music concert.

As their attraction deepens, Beth finds out that Danny has a past—let’s just say that he hasn’t been chaste, although he has changed  in recent years. Beth thinks she shouldn’t get further involved with him and should just return to California, but then her grandma starts to have medical issues, beginning with an arm she has difficulty using. Grandma also refuses to move, so Beth finds herself staying in the U.P. through the long winter, taking her grandmother to doctor’s appointments and also seeing a lot more of Danny.

Besides the main characters, one of my favorite people in the book was Mak, a Yooper who writes romance novels under a woman’s pen name. Mak talks Yooper, constantly saying “yous” and “da,” but he has some good points to make about love, and he pops up every now and then like a Greek chorus to comment about where his characters are at in their romance, which seems to parallel or foreshadow where Beth and Danny are in their relationship.

Beth also begins to learn things not only about Danny’s past but her own mother’s. Before it’s all over, the novel teaches realistic lessons about being a Christian, not being overly rigid, forgiveness and taking chances on love.

There’s also plenty of U.P. flavor from characters taking saunas to eating popular local foods and using Finnish phrases. Overall, Snow Country is a beautiful love story that romance readers will enjoy, Christian or not. In fact, I think it would make a beautiful movie.

Neva will release a sequel this summer titled, Copper Country. It tells the further story of two minor characters in the novel.

Visit KristinNeva.com for more information about Neva and the Copper Island series.

The Holy Family Orphans Home—Abandoned

Photographs by Chuck  and JeanAnn Labelle

Text by Melissa Meldrum

Anyone who has watched Marquette’s orphanage sit abandoned for years and then watched with interest its recent renovation will be delighted that someone sought to document its years of abandonment. The LaBelles had the privilege of going inside the Holy Family Orphans Home prior to the start of its renovation and taking photos of its dilapidated state. The results are stunning.

Yes, these are pictures of an abandoned building in disarray but they also help people who may never have been inside the orphanage, functioning or not, to envision the sheer size and grandeur that this century-old building once possessed.

Everything imaginable has been photographed and although the book is only just over 100 pages, there are numerous images. The photo angles provide interesting views down corridors. Water damage is apparent in the images, as is damage to walls and floors, windows and parts of the structure itself.

The LaBelles describe the pictures of “urban photography” and they seem very much like something you might expect in a ghetto, and at the same time, they are beautiful in many ways. All the pictures are in full color, which brings to life the beauty of the building’s destruction. A grouping of three decaying chairs, one of which has its cushion on the floor, stand together amid a pile of rubble and against a backdrop of swirly graffiti marked by a heart. An arched doorway that I suspect belonged to the chapel is striking for the “Scene of the crime” graffiti sprayed on the wall and what looks like the outline of a body.

Remnants of stained glass remain in windows while other window frames have no glass but allow for views of the city surrounding the building. Blackboards hang on the walls filled with graffiti names. Piles of wood and broken furnishings fill some rooms. Others are barren. What struck me the most, however, was all the color in the photos—reds, grays, oranges, browns, and the spray paint that adds color to many a room.

Although this is predominantly a coffee table photo book, it is also a wonderful history of the orphanage and the most complete and thorough I have seen in any book. Melissa Meldrum spent countless hours researching the orphanage’s history, reading old interviews of its many inhabitants and employees, as well as interviewing many people who grew up inside the orphanage.

A full description is given of the orphanage’s construction. The building was designed by William E. Reynolds and opened in 1915. The history of the various orphanages that preceded this building is given. Father Emil Beyer, who was superintendent of the orphanage in the middle of the 20th century, is described at length and quoted. References are made to the many activities held at the orphanage, from the daily school life of the children to parties that were held. Phil Niemisto’s recollections of the orphanage during the Great Depression are included and Richard Ryan shares his memories of living there in the early 1960s, when the orphanage was also home to several Cuban children who had fled Fidel Castro’s regime.

Following its time as an orphange, it later became the Vocational Skills Center before those services were moved to the Jacobetti Skills Center. Finally, the story of the building as a vacant place, complete with rumors of it being haunted, is mentioned. Meldrum provides a complete list of her sources and concludes by stating it offers a vivid history in the collective memory of local people.

This book is definitely one you don’t want to miss. The LaBelles are currently preparing a follow-up that will document the orphanage’s renovation.

Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of My Marquette and Willpower. All books reviewed in this column are available in local and online bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit marquettemonthly.org.

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