This book is aptly named Daughter of Twin Oaks as it goes to narrate the arduous journey of Jesselyn, the oldest Highwood daughter, from her home Twin Oaks to Missouri in search of a safer ground in the Civil war-torn America. The Highwoods plantation was thriving before war. Joshua Highwood never had to worry over feeding his big family or his slaves, whom he dreamed of freeing as soon as the opportunity arrived.
But the wretched war changed everything for them. Joshua went to war, his wife Miriam died giving birth to their last child, Thaddeus or Thaddy. His oldest son Adam also died in war, the next Zachary gone missing. Joshua came home 2 yrs. later to die of his wounds. Jesselyn, next to Zach, was only 18 at that time. She had to grow up so fast that it might've spun my own head. She had to take the responsibly of not only a plantation full of slaves but also of 2 yrs. old Thaddy, and her sisters Louisa and Carrie Mae. She sends Louisa and Carrie Mae to Richmond to live with their maternal aunt for safety purposes. She then takes measures to free her slaves. Afterwards, Jesselyn plans on journeying because she'd promised her father one thing before his passing; to take their prized thoroughbreds to her uncle Hiram's to hide away from the soldiers. After all, Highwoods have always been known for their stud farm and splendid horses. They needed to hold onto some hope; that once Zach returned, and the war ended, they can start over rebuilding.
What Jesselyn, who masquerades as a boy to save herself from danger in this tumultuous time, in her inexperience didn't even begin to comprehend how difficult it would be for her to cross one side of America to the other. With only 4 freed slaves, whom she considered more family than anything else, to take care of her and Thaddy, Jesselyn headed out and on the way, she saw and experienced so much negativity that it changed her forever. The deaths, misery and sufferings of war everywhere even shook her faith in God. On the way, she takes on more people in her little band of misfits, not knowing how can she feed so many mouths. Yet her only beacon of hope was uncle Hiram's farm, where she planned to stay put for Winter, then return to Twin Oaks in Spring.
Simultaneously, Louisa and Carrie Mae's stories are also told. Even though, the girly girl Carrie Mae has already found herself a suitor and is getting married soon, Louisa wants to be more helpful. She has the need and drive to become a healer. And though she lacked the experience in becoming a doctor or a trained nurse, Louisa finds a way to contribute. She's now working as a volunteer in the nearest hospital, fabricating her marital status since unmarried women are totally discouraged from even going there, let alone help. But no matter, both sisters are very worried over Twin Oaks and their siblings they miss so much. Letters don't arrive that easily, so they learn quite late about Jesselyn's journey.
Even in the midst of war, loves comes to Louisa, but she doesn't get her happy ending. I was so hoping for her and Gilbert to be together that it broke my heart into pieces. I really wish the the news she got from Zachary, who turned out to be alive by some miracle, isn't true.
Jesselyn also finds someone along the way. Barbanas was a soldier she saved from near death. Even though Jesselyn was still masquerading as a boy, he knew she wasn't. The attraction was instant. Unfortunately, he had to leave her when a missive arrives from home. There is that unspoken promise but will they ever make it through? It seems that both Highwood sisters are fated to be heartbroken, though thankfully, Carrie Mae gets to marry her sweetheart, Jonathan.
There is no conventional hero or heroine in this story because Daughter of Twin Oaks is as much Jesselyn's story as Louisa and Carrie Mae's. Even Zachary's, Meshach's and Ophelia's. While reading, I couldn't help notice that most of the male protagonists (all the love interests of the sisters' and Zachary himself) of this story aren't whole and hearty. Much like the country itself, they are ravaged by war, missing one limb or the other.
I wish I could say there was light at the end of the tunnel for Jesselyn or Louisa. While Louisa devotes herself more in the healing process of Zachary and a few other soldiers she was responsible for, Jesselyn learns some very heartbreaking news, when, after 2 months of grueling journey, they finally arrive in Missouri. For one, Uncle Hiram's farm no longer existed, he being one of the earliest casualties. Then, to top it off, there's bad news about Twin Oaks. I was simply heartbroken yet once again at the despair vibrating off of Jesselyn. It was just... inexplicable. As Jesselyn would think over and over again, would this war ever end? Would they make it through? Most importantly, would the siblings ever get to see each-other again?
But our Jesse isn't the type to give up, so she plans to forge on, come what may. She'll find a way, think of something. When the good news of Zachary reaches her, her hopes are revived once again. Maybe all is not lost for Twin Oaks as their horses are now in a safer place too. She only hoped she can hold on until Spring. Until all of them can return to Twin Oaks.
For me, the best scenes among all the misery, were the scenes with Thaddy. I loved, LOVED him, he was such a cute little thing! :)
Daughter of Twin Oaks, book 1 in A Secret Refuge series, was my very first book by Lauraine Snelling and it won't be my last. It was told in third person POVs, from both Louisa and Jesselyn's; done very well too. I must admit it's a winner because I've already come to love this saga of the Highwood family so far. The saga continues in book 2, Sisters of the Confederacy, which I can't wait to dig in. I need to know where the siblings are headed to.
This story is also what you'd call a clean cut, Christian-themed romance so don't expect any steamy moments. I'm crossing out 0.5 because of the typos, probably from the scan that was done to prepare the ebook edition. I maybe wrong but I wasn't expecting those. This is my only complaint, so 4 stars and recommended.
Just fyi that this book is currently a kindle freebie.