Ruth Erskine’s Crosses

March 5, 2017

Ruth Erskine’s Crosses is in some ways my favorite and in some ways my least favorite of the Chautauqua Girls books. Ruth struggles with religion, and her struggle is meaty and complicated and relatable. But it’s also kind of a struggle to read—because of her slow progress and numerous setbacks, and because most of the time you can see exactly what she’s doing wrong and how she could fix it. That’s a big thing for Pansy/Isabella Alden—the idea that it’s a lot easier to see other people’s mistakes than your own. And on one hand, that’s exactly the kind of complexity I enjoy reading about, and on the other it’s very frustrating.

I love Ruth, but (and?) she’s primarily composed of reasonless prejudices that she’s become really attached to. And it’s clear from the beginning that she’ll have to set them aside if she wants a good relationship with God, and that that’s a big ask.

Of the four Chautauqua girls, Ruth has always been the one surrounded by drama, and in this book especially it feels like God (or Alden) knows she only grows during crises and keeps throwing them at her in the hope that something will stick. So the book begins with Ruth’s father bringing home his secret lower class wife and daughter—something neither of them deal with very well. Then her father falls ill, and while he comes out of it in good shape (religiously, and, to a lesser extent, physically), Ruth is still foundering.

She goes through several more life changes before the conflict is resolved, in the most boring and traditional way possible, and I lose some of my interest in Ruth. It’s partly that thing you run into a lot in romances, where once the hero and heroine get together all the tension is gone and it turns out they were never interesting enough to hold your attention—it was all just the plot. But Flossy and Marion didn’t get less interesting as their difficulties were resolved, so…I think it might also be the other way around. Ruth is still fascinating, but the plot disappointed me.

Ruth still has some major tasks to accomplish in her family, and I’m interested enough to want to know how that goes, but I think I’ll take a bit of a break before I move on to the next book.


  1. Congrats on your 10th anniversary! I doubt that Ruth Erskine is for me, but am curious what you will think of The Riddle Of The Sands. I can’t imagine it’s a coincidence that you picked another author with Erskine as a name, albeit a given one. Childers’ might be a tad dull if you’re not a sailor, although he is credited with waking the British up to the German naval threat prior to WW1. (Meanwhile, Oppenheim doesn’t appear to have received similar credit).

    Incidentally, Childers was executed for his role in the Civil War that followed the struggle for Irish Independence. He faced his firing squad with panache, advising them “Take a step forward, lads. It will be easier that way”.

    • Thanks!

      I actually read The Riddle of the Sands a few years back, and liked it a lot. Didn’t know that Childers was a member of the Died Excitingly Squad, though.

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