Last January author Becky Doughty began publishing parts of her serial novel Elderberry Croft on her blog. She released one story a month from January through December 2013. Unfortunately I didn’t discover this enchanting series right away, but the advantage of reading it now is that you can go right from one episode to another without having to wait for the next one to be published.
Elderberry Croft tells the story of Willow Goodhope, a mysterious young woman who finds herself living in a trailer park that many of the residents seem to regard as a place to wait to die. We don’t learn much about Willow in volume 1 (January through March), but there are glimpses of a profound sadness that may be related to the events that brought her to the tiny cottage in the trailer park.
Each of the episodes focuses on one of the neighbors in the trailer park. The characters are engaging, and they remind us of people we know or maybe even our own relatives. Each month, Willow touches the lives of a neighbor in a way that then cascades out to the rest of the neighborhood. By the March episode, we can already sense that Willow’s small actions have helped to bring about changes to make the trailer park more of a true community where people really watch out for one another.
In this first volume, Willow’s abilities almost seem magical. Her name is even somewhat reminiscent of the names of the Salem witches; could Willow be a witch, or a descendant of witches, or at the very least born with the “second sight” or other supernatural abilities? But we also see that Willow quietly but consistently reaffirms her faith in God. In January Breeze, how did Willow know about Kathy’s cough and dogs so as to be able to provide a suitable gift so quickly? Willow says that God told her that an herbal tea remedy would be what Kathy would most appreciate. In February Embers, Patti thinks that Willow’s house looks like a witch’s house. How else could she get the plants to grow so well even in wintertime? But Willow explains to Kathy that her green thumb is a gift from God. In March Whispers, Joe asks if the elder is Willow’s tree spirit. Willow laughs and explains how in her childhood, her family found a practical use for products from the elder tree in every season of the year. The tree is a true giving tree, and when Willow saw it growing in a part of the country where it doesn’t ordinarily grow well, she knew that God was leading her to the little cottage she christened Elderberry Croft.
Once you have read the first volume, you will want to keep reading. What are the other neighbors like? What secrets is Willow trying to hide, and why is she so sad underneath her effervescent personality? Elderberry Croft, Volume 1, is a character-driven mystery story with a touch of magic (or something resembling magic) and a sprinkling of herbal lore. I look forward to reading the rest of the series to see how the mystery unfolds and eventually resolves.