Backwards to Oregon is the perfect lesbian novel if you’re looking for a sweet story full of adventures, love, tenderness and, at the same time, believable and deep characters, all that in the magic context of a historical novel. It isn’t easy to find two characters as Luke and Nora, so well developed, full of emotions and fears, people who you understand and care about.
Luke Hamilton is a loner. Born in a brothel and having lost her mother at the age of twelve, she soon discovers that it’s easier to survive as a man than as a woman, so she takes this role, hiding her real genre to everyone but feeling so much comfortable as a man. Tired of her career as a sergeant, she’s looking forward beginning a new life and there’s no better place than the wild west so she’s decided to join a wagon train to reach Oregon and breed horses.
Nora Macauley, also known as Fleur, is a woman who has nothing but her body to survive. After being neglected by her family because of what they considered an unforgivable sin, she works in a brothel in Independence. She has long forgotten her life as the daughter of one of the richest man of Boston and her days are full with the miseries that a lady of the night has to endure.
The life of these two women changes thanks to Tess, the brothel’s madame and Luke’s unique friend, who introduces them in an atypical way. After a not so successful first encounter, the lives of these two women will be entwined by something deeper and more important than love: need. Luke needs to make her performance as a man more believable if she wants to be accepted in the wagon train and Nora needs to escape from the life she’s been living because there’s no hope or future for her.
The story is wonderful, the journey long and tiring, but what made me fall in love with this book is, undoubtedly, the characters. On one hand, Luke is so in need of love, acceptance and someone who loves her because of what she is, and to get this she only has to show her real self, something impossible when her whole life has been full of pretending and loneliness. Nora isn’t different, having lived with a family that only saw her like a mean to an end and when she couldn’t play the role she was supposed to fulfill, they threw her away without seconds thoughts. Both women are lonely, insecure and afraid because they have suffered so much during their lives that they no longer believe dreams can come true and that there’s someone special who will love them entirely.
I love drama and dramatic situations and nothing is more dramatic for me than a woman who has to sell herself to survive, losing her self esteem and any hope because an act committed when she’s barely a child. On the other hand, we have a woman who is used to be alone, to have no one to trust, to love, to share her life with. Luke is a fantastic person, generous and loving, but is unable to demonstrate it because the world says that what she is is wrong.
As I said, they’re believable and vulnerable characters and JAE describes them so well that you live through them, their emotions, their fears, their longings, their need to be part of something, of not being alone anymore. You understand their situation; you live with them along a journey where they discover their truth selves and value. And then, of course, they discover love though none of them were looking for it.