"Loving Leah," by Utah author Lynne Larson, is not just a love story, it is a fictional historical account following one family as they navigate the Civil War in the town of Lawrence, Kansas, and the harrowing events of one tragic day that send them on a journey of terror, growth and faith.
Fourteen-year-old Ethan Pace's mother is dead, his father is leaving to war, and now he and his 4-year-old sister Addie are in need of a governess. Twenty-year-old Leah Donaldson was just fired from a job due to her Mormon beliefs and is available to help the Pace family.
Their town is thought to be generally safe from the war, but one day, vigilantes attack, burning down houses and killing any man or boy who sides with the abolitionists. Fearing for the children's lives, Leah hides Ethan and Addie in a hidden vestibule in their home. When the vigilantes arrive, they threaten to burn down the house and kill the children, unless Leah leaves with them.
Leah accepts the terms, the children live, and their father returns to help the town rebuild. Five years later, Ethan can't forget what Leah did for them, and leaves on a journey to hopefully find her and help her fulfill her dream of going to Zion in Utah.
While the plot is well-paced and interesting, and the characters are realistic and well-developed, at times the narration slows and becomes robotic, listing information all at once instead of dispersing it throughout.
The story is told from Ethan's point of view, but his thoughts and words seem much too mature for a 14-year-old character, especially in regards to his crush on Leah and the jealousy that comes with it.
At the heart of it all, "Loving Leah" is a testament of the true historical figures from Lawrence that day, who are mentioned in the story, and of the pioneer heritage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who gave up all they had to get to Zion.
"Loving Leah" contains mild described scenes of violence, assumed rape but no direct mention of it, and no swearing.