I want spend a little time today gushing about my favorite books because they played a pretty big role in my aspirations to become a writer.
You’ve likely never heard of these books. It’s the Apple Valley Series by Nancy Covert Smith, a young adult writer who doesn’t have a great many titles under her belt. I found these books in the “Teen” section of our public library when I was in seventh grade, which was really just the back wall of the kids’ area, unlike in today’s libraries, where teens have their own rooms and game systems and makerspaces. These books were in the same section as R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books (which I read, can you believe it?) and Sweet Valley High (which I did not).
These little Apple Valley paperbacks made a huge impact on me. I read them straight through when I was home sick from school, and I remember my dad asking if I wanted to read them all at once and “be done with those characters” so quickly. In my 12-year-old mind, this was a ridiculous question. Of COURSE I wanted to read them all now. How could I POSSIBLY wait???
The original series was a trilogy, but years later, when Amazon began selling used books and some special people in my life found and ordered copies for me, imagine my delight when I discovered Ms. Smith had published a fourth book, a sequel to the trilogy! So see, Dad, I wasn’t done with the characters in seventh grade, after all!
The first book begins in the late 1810s in western Pennsylvania, and the original trilogy tells the story of childhood friends and rivals who eventually fall in love and decide to move west, to the Firelands of Ohio, by way of covered wagon. The author’s own family history inspired her to write these books.
As a child, I was not a Laura Ingalls Wilder reader, but I was an American Girls fan. Our trip to Boston in 1990 (which you can read more about here) made a history lover out of me, but American Girls books made a historical fiction lover out of me. So the Apple Valley books were an easy sell.
DeLanna Robinsohn is the main character, an auburn-haired spitfire who was the youngest (and only girl) in a family of German settlers. I didn’t necessarily identify with DeLanna personality-wise, as I’m pretty much a rule-follower and a pleaser. But DeLanna’s spark always spoke of greater things in her future than settling down in the community where she was born, and this tease drew me into the story.
DeLanna’s mother, Charity, might as well be the proverbial stepmother for how much they butt heads and how strained their relationship is. And erring on the side of leniency is her kind and tender father, John. DeLanna’s three older brothers are all different and all love and torment her in their own ways. But the shining star of DeLanna’s family is her grandmother, Oma, John’s mother. If ever there were kindred spirits in the world, it’s these two.
The books are populated with other memorable characters, a well-drawn community of settlers, twists and turns to the plot, clandestine meetings, growing affection, and an adventure of a journey “out west” (because, of course, in the 1820s, north-central Ohio was the western frontier).
But let’s talk about the hero. Some girls had Mr. Darcy, or Mr. Rochester. Other girls had Edward and Jacob. But I had Andrew Tabor. He’s the oldest son in an outcast Scots-Irish family, living on a farm neighboring the Robinsohns’. Perhaps this was why I truly connected with DeLanna: we both loved Andrew so deeply! I won’t say too much for fear of spoiling the narrative, but their relationship evolves from childhood sparring to a real, grown-up love story.
When I wrote my first “novella” in high school, it was very heavily influenced by Andrew and DeLanna’s story, and even today, 25 years after first reading these books, a little piece of their relationship lives in everything I write. In fact, right about the time I read these was when I transitioned from writing simple stories in a spiral notebook to my first attempts at crafting a novel. These Apple Valley books threw me headlong into the world of historical romance, which is where I want to find my niche as a writer. I wish I could tell Ms. Smith how important her books are to me, but I have not been successful in my many attempts to track her down.
I love these books so much that I have read them a dozen times. I never reread books, so this is a Big Deal. If you can get your hands on copies of them (The Dare, The Proposal, The Journey, and Destiny), of course I recommend reading them. If I know you and IMPLICITLY TRUST YOU, I may even let you borrow mine.
Maybe they won’t be as important to you as they are to me, but I hope you enjoy the story and find it as comforting and inspiring as I always have.
What books have influenced you?