Colorado anthropologist Jeannie Mobley shines a light on her native state in Katerina’s Wish, her debut novel about an immigrant Bohemian family in a Southern Colorado mining town at the turn of the 20th century. Katerina and her two younger sisters already know the drudgery of daily life as they help their mother with seemingly endless loads of laundry to supplement Papa’s wages in the mines. At the rate they are able to save, Katerina despairs that the family’s dream of having a farm of their own—a dream that brought them so far from home—will ever be a reality.
Katerina, who is almost 14, decides to take matters into her own hands. Her sisters may believe that wishes are granted by a magic fish in a nearby pool, but Katerina knows better. An entrepreneur at heart, she finds a way to grow cucumbers, raise chickens and circumvent the high prices of the only store in town to save money.
Then comes the day of the explosion in the mine. During tense days of waiting for news of the trapped miners, Katerina proves to her mother that she is growing up. It is not only Papa who is missing, but their best friends, Old Jan’s sons, Karel and Mark.
Just as Aaron Hawkins does in his delightful historical novel, The Year Money Grew on Trees, Mobley provides engaging details of Katerina’s creative exploits into gardening and running her own business. It’s also fascinating to see the relationship among the different immigrant groups in the town, and how Katerina finds a way to bring them all together.
Young readers, accustomed to heading out to the store or mall to get new “store bought” clothes at the start of the school year, might be surprised to learn just how hard Katerina and her sisters must work to buy cloth to make a dress. No lecture required: just hand them this thoroughly engaging story.