The Springsweet

The Springsweet

by Saundra Mitchell


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When seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart arrives in the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her widowed aunt, she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a "springsweet" to advise settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land. Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water. Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547608426
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/17/2012
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Saundra Mitchell is a screenwriter and author. Her companion novels The Vespertine, The Springsweet, and The Elementals have been praised for their rich historical settings, evocative language, and heart-pounding romance. Her debut novel, Shadowed Summer, was a 2010 Edgar Award Nominee, a Junior Library Guild selection, and an ALAN Pick. Visit her website at

Read an Excerpt


That I went a little mad, I could not deny.

Those endless months in mourning clothes saved me and destroyed me; I got used to my own silence and to the delicate passing of footsteps. No one invited me to tea or to dance. They didn’t even ask me to speak over cold dinners; sometimes I had the pleasure of eating alone on the sideboard.

After two months, I should have packed away my black dress, remembering death with just a dark ribbon in my hair. After six months, I should have taken callers and started at the new girls’ high school. But I didn’t, and I wouldn’t—I remained cloaked in ebony satin, my steps slow, as if taken through an ocean of dreams.

I woke, I slept, and I waited, endlessly waited, for my Thomas Rea, who would never call on me again.

After a year, my mother decided to rip down my black crêpe by force.

"They’re your friends," Mama said, brisk as always. "So I sent your card out."

I think she meant for me to argue, but what argument could I make? I was neither widow nor wife.

Freshly seventeen, I should have had roses in my cheeks and laughter in my heart. I should have savored the dawn of spring. But then, I shouldn’t have known, to the drop, how much blood could spill from a boy before he turned gray and breathed no more.

Mama flipped her dough, leaning into it hard to knead it. "You’ll have Mattie and Victoria, and Grace if she’s over that cold of hers. Hope she doesn’t drag it in, anyway. She should know better."

Winding the paring knife round and round, I bared an apple’s flesh. I had no reply.

"Thought I’d like to invite some badgers, too," Mama said, turning a gray look in my direction. "Maybe we’ll strip to our corsets and have a parade in the park."

When I said nothing still, Mama made an ugly sound. Flipping the dough again, she banged from one end of the counter to the other. What she meant to do I couldn’t imagine. So when she snatched her pine rolling pin and pounded the table in front of me, I jumped.

The knife bit into my thumb.

"Oh, duck," Mama said, her voice strained as she wrapped her apron around my hand. "What did you do that for?"

I shook my head, watching scarlet blossom through white muslin. I had no tears for this ridiculous little wound.

"You’re alive," she said, squeezing until my hand throbbed. Lifting it above my head, she tugged me to my feet. How peculiar it seemed that she didn’t tower over me anymore.

"You’re alive, Zora Stewart," she repeated, catching my chin with her unencumbered hand. "And you have to be alive until your time comes."

Rolling my gaze round to hers, I opened my mouth. As if the creaking of a neglected hinge, my voice came out slow and croaking. "Do you know what I dream?"

"Tell me."

" Every night, I drown in fire," I said. Numb, my lips barely shaped my words. "Endlessly, Mama. I drown in it, and the sky is as wide as the sea."

Opening the hot tap, mama rinsed blood from my fingers. "There’s neither heaven nor hell on this earth, but those you make."

"I made none of this."

"And yet you succumb."

Reclaiming my hand, I sat again. "Arrange something for me, then."

"Arrange it yourself," Mama replied. She leaned on the counter, rubbing dry hands drier on her apron. "You’ll take callers this week."

Drawn by habit, I touched the locket at my throat. It held my remembrance of Thomas, a single curl of his hair closed in a silver shell. I had made all my arrangements, and none of them would ever happen. "I meant a match. A marriage. Just to have it done with."

Mama touched my chin, turning my face to hers. "One cage into another is no life at all."

But I had gone mad in those months. Just the littlest bit, and madness sometimes guises itself as reason. My fingers trailed from the locket, and likewise my gaze from Mama’s. I took up my paring knife and apple, and made up my unsettled mind.

I would not dance, I decided. Go calling, play snapdragon, go riding in street cars—none of it. My merry days were over, my heart too broken to beat again. It was time to put away notions and games, childhood and hopes. My decision was made: I would be married.

But first, I needed counsel.


I walked down Fayette Street alone. I went in black, so no one bothered me—my destination was clear.

The Westminster Burial Ground sat in a small plot, penned on every side by a city growing in desperate gasps. I opened the iron gate and streamed away from the odd fellow standing there—one of the boys who appeared with cognac and two glasses: one for them, and one for Mr. Poe. They dissipated themselves intentionally, leaning against the stone of a drunk who’d died in a gutter, in the most literal sense.

I longed to throw rocks at them, to chase them away—to dare them to grieve just once over something real and then decide if it was romantic.

They, I think, considered me kindred. This one saw me and raised his glass. As if we could be the same—those fools who suffered intentionally, and I, who longed to sink into the ground with my love and sleep forevermore.

From my cloak, I pulled a horsehair brush and skimmed it across Thomas’ marker. I cleaned the soft limestone until the carved hand that held his martyr’s arrow stood out in perfect relief. I brushed the stone clean, until there could be no forgetting.

Guiltily, I polished his name, because I had begun to forget. When I clutched the locket round my throat, I couldn’t remember whether the lock of his hair inside was more auburn or strawberry. I had an impression of his voice that had faded, as if called down a corridor.

The wind lifted, and speckled white petals fluttered around me, the gentlest snow. I murmured, "I’m thinking of sending away to be a farmer’s wife, Thomas. In the Territories."

Quiet answered, but not silence. Instead of Thomas’ voice, ships in the harbor cried their comings, their goings. Men worked nearby, singing as they laid mortar, and hoofbeats argued with the disconcerting hum of the streetcars.

"There are magazines full of them—widowers wanting a wife to raise their orphaned children."

From the corner of my eye, I saw Poe’s Visitor finish his cup and set it on top of the stone—no doubt to leave it there. The dead did not drink; they certainly didn’t ruin their own burying yard. Living men did that—careless ones. Damping my ire, I turned my attention to Thomas again.

"Is it a bad idea? I don’t think you’d mind, but I just don’t know." Sinking slowly to my knees, I leaned my forehead against the limestone. How queer it felt—warm as flesh in the places it basked in the sun, and cool as water in the shadows.

Only the roughness of the stone, already weathered, answered me. A slow tide of grief filled me; I murmured, "I wish you’d say. I wish you’d haunt me, Thomas. You’re so still."

Someone approached from behind; I stiffened and drank up my tears.


Turning, I lifted my face to Poe’s Visitor. He was carelessly handsome, his coat unbuttoned. Ink spotted his sleeves, accusing black specks on the cuffs. He reminded me overmuch of an artist, or an actor—so caught in his own head he couldn’t behave, even in a graveyard.

Coolly, I asked, "Can I help you?"

He offered his hand and a concerned look. "That’s what I meant to ask you."

Trying to gather myself the way my mother did, I wanted to make myself full and great, such a wall that no one would trouble me. But my mother’s voice wouldn’t have quavered if she’d been the one to say " Thank you, no."

Glancing at the stone, he asked, "A friend?"

"Hardly!" I bristled, then stopped short.

What could I say? I felt like a widow, but I wasn’t. To call Thomas friend lied about everything we ever were. Angry tears stung my eyes again, and I ducked around this intruder. I owed him no explanation.

"You shouldn’t walk home alone," Poe’s Visitor called after me, but he chose not to follow.

Stealing a glance as I hurried through the gate, I saw that he’d already turned away. Hands folded, he considered the headstone instead of me, his dark hair overlong and fingered by the wind. Standing beneath a flowering pear, he cut a fine figure. Tall and straight, broad of shoulder—plainly kind.

And yet I felt nothing. No curiosity about his name or his provenance, no desire to write him into a dance card or take his hand in a darkened garden.

That had to be Thomas’ answer.

If I couldn’t imagine a life with anyone else, then I had to give myself to good intentions and hard work. Mothering in Kansas or the Territories or anyplace but Baltimore, Maryland, would do.


"It’s not as though I’m complaining," Mattie complained, trying to balance her teacup and saucer on her knees, "but I thought we might catch up a bit over tea, not newspapers."

Victoria turned a page and made a funny noise. "I can read and catch up at the same time."

My gloves abandoned, I stood at the table, poring over the newspaper I’d claimed for my own. "You know my particulars—I’m the same as I ever was. How are you?"

"Distractible," Mattie said. She leaned over her cup to implore me. "My silver toilette’s gone all ragged at the hems. I wanted to wear it to the Sugarcane Ball, and now I can’t."

"How distressing," I said as I ran my finger along the paper. Passing inquiries for nurses and teachers and clerks, I skipped to the bottom of the page and lit up when I finally found my particular heading:


Slowly, I sank into my seat, reading through the listings. Miners and land grabbers and cattlemen—they’d traveled west to find their fortunes but had to write back east to find their wives. So many asked for a cooing dove, a docile lamb, a darling kitten, that I wondered if I’d stumbled on inquiries for a zoo.

Mattie raised her cup. "Are you going to come?"

"To what?" I asked.

"The Sugarcane Ball," Mattie said. She gave a suffering sigh. "Are you paying attention at all?"

"I hardly am, I admit."

Victoria laughed under her breath, then closed her paper with a flourish. Propping elbows on the table, she shrugged. "It’s all miners in this one."

"That won’t do," I said.

"Why not?" Mattie opened her fan. She hid all but her eyes behind it, flapping it lazily. Then, with a snap, she closed it again. It was all practice for the ball, though she didn’t need it. Her startling blue eyes needed no frame to improve them.

"Miners are dirty," Victoria said. She hesitated, then reached for the next paper. "And poor."

Mattie furled the fan again. "They’re goldminers, realize."

"It’s gambling, realize."

"If it means a lovely house with running water upstairs and down, and a water closet, and a girl to come in every day, I have no philosophical objection to gambling," Mattie replied. She moved to snap her wrist, and I caught it. The rattle of fan bones had driven me to distraction.

"Just as like to end up in a shanty," I told her. "I’m looking for someone settled."

"Find someone here, at the ball," Mattie said. She turned her eyes up at me, making no move to reclaim her hand. Distinctly doll-like, she slid to the edge of her chair to plead. "Everyone’s leaving me. Can’t you stay?"

A scold flew to my lips. Our dear friends hadn’t left us. Thomas and Sarah weren’t traveling on holiday; Amelia and Nathaniel weren’t simply away. These separations couldn’t be cured with cards and reunions—they were dead. All dead: Thomas bled and Sarah poisoned; Nathaniel burned and Amelia fevered.

It was the last that broke me irreparably. Attending funeral upon funeral, and Caleb’s disappearance before trial, was more than I wanted to bear. But bear it I did, thinking Mama would soon relent and bring Amelia back home to Baltimore. Instead, a letter came to my door rather than of my dearest friend.

Three spare lines in an unfamiliar hand informed us that Amelia had taken a fever on returning to Maine and expired forthwith. Her brother sent no memento; I had nothing but memories and despair. Thus, I commended myself to madness.

Our sixteenth summer lay buried—how could Mattie be so frivolous? Honestly, how could I? The delicate bubble of my amusement burst. Folding on myself, I turned to the papers still spread on the table.

"What good is any of this, I wonder?" I asked.

Wind washed over me, cool and almost wet with its freshness. But it was no balm; I panicked when I felt it. My mother’s errands hadn’t lasted nearly as long as I expected.

"Hurry," I said, scrambling to hide my papers and catalogs. "Put the cups and pot back on the table!"

"God save us from sailors! The harbor’s teeming with them. Can’t hardly go a step without . . ." Fingers poised at her temples, smoothing back loose curls, Mama narrowed her eyes at us. "This seems too precious by half."

I lifted my teacup, sipping at cold, sugared dregs. "You sent them my card, Mama. Of course, I invited them in."

Gliding into the parlor, Mama eyed the table, then smiled at Mattie, "How do you do, dear?"

"Very well, thank you," Mattie said, folding her hands neatly as doves in her lap. "It’s been a lovely tea. I’ve even convinced Zora to come to the Sugarcane Ball."

Through gritted teeth, I said, "We had only considered it, Mattie."

Mama ignored the tone of my voice, refusing to see how stiffly I sat and the hard cut of my eyes. She heard what she wished to hear: I’d be a good girl again, worried about dresses and dances, the darkness of last summer finally put aside.

"Oh, Zora," Mama said, engulfing me in a powdery hug,

"I couldn’t be happier!"

Over Mama’s shoulder, I caught a glimpse of my oldest but least dear friend. Mattie shone with a silvery, pristine smile. She’d gotten her way. I would come out of mourning at the Sugarcane Ball—that she’d forced me meant nothing.

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The Springsweet 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
DarkFaerieTales on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Review Courtesy of Dark Faerie TalesQuick & Dirty: City girl Zora Stewart moves out west to search for who she is and what she wants to do with her life after the tragedies she experienced in this companion novel to The Vespertine.Opening Sentence: That I went a little mad, I could not deny.The Review:The Springsweet is Saundra Mitchell¿s second novel featuring the character of Zora Stewart. Zora has been mourning for a year, and can¿t find the will to move on with her life in Baltimore. She starts looking for an escape by marriage answering ads for widowed farmers out west, but cannot go through with it once she is faced with the reality of what that life would entail. Instead, Zora decides to move to the sparsely populated Oklahoma Territory to help her recently widowed aunt with housework and raising her young cousin. I read The Springsweet before The Vespertine, so I did not fully appreciate this book and the character of Zora until I had finished both. This novel is a complete turn from The Vespertine because we now have a new narrator that we had only seen through Amelia¿s eyes before, and it is set as far from a city as possible. The strong and eloquent writing style is still very evident in this sequel.The Zora we see in this novel has experienced terrible tragedies from losing friends, family, and loved ones. I won¿t say who so I don¿t spoil The Vespertine, but Zora is a changed young woman. She is no longer carefree and playful, but somber and reserved. There is a spark of her former self that comes out when she encounters male characters like Theo de la Croix and Emerson Birch that gets her into trouble with her family and society. When Zora goes to a dance in the beginning of the book, Theo surprises her and she falls into a well. She surprises him by kissing him, ruining her reputation in Baltimore, and catalyzing her move to the Oklahoma Territory. This is a book about Zora finding who she really is after her former life is taken from her as she sets out to make her own way in the world.Once in West Glory, Zora realizes that her whole life has been easy compared to living in a soddy and hauling water from the well multiple times a day. Her main job is to look after her three-year-old cousin Louella so her Aunt Birdie can take in washing and mending for money. Since travel was expensive and time consuming, Zora has never met her aunt and cousin that she is sent to live with. She learns about them, and comes to understand how much life has hardened her aunt, but that she is still kind. The girl Louella is a stereotypical young girl who has the whole prairie to play in. One thing I found interesting was how well Zora mothers Louella even though she has no younger siblings or much experience with children that we know of. She treats Louella as if she was her own daughter. This raised my esteem of Zora since it showed that she has evolved to be able to take care of others.In the vast prairie, Zora finds that she has a talent for finding water underground. The magic within her works so she can see and sense where water is, and her aunt sets her up to find potential well spots on other people¿s land for money. Her talent turns sour when some people are unhappy with her discovery (or lack of) on their property. She finds a kindred spirit in Emerson Birch because he has the ability to make plants grow. Zora isn¿t new to the paranormal. In The Vespertine, her cousin Amelia could predict the future. Zora and Emerson¿s paranormal talents complement each other just like Amelia and Nathaniel¿s did in The Vespertine.Zora has two love interests in The Springsweet. The first is Theo de la Croix, the young man from Baltimore that Zora kissed after falling in the well. He followed her all the way to the Oklahoma Territory to unsuccessfully court her. Zora doesn¿t dislike Theo, but she is not interested in pursuing a relationship with him. She doesn¿t feel like she would be a good match for him, and wants him to do better. It wo
renkellym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For those that haven¿t read The Vespertine, The Springsweet might be a bit confusing at first. After the first two chapters, though, The Springsweet comes into its own and focuses on Zora¿s new life on the prairie. Even so, I¿d recommend reading The Vespertine first for context. (Saundra Mitchell doesn¿t waste time playing catch-up, so be warned.)For those who have read The Vespertine, you¿re in for a treat with The Springsweet. Like its cover, The Springsweet is summery and hopeful in overall tone¿it contrasts the darker setting of The Vespertine. Saundra Mitchell¿s writing is as beautiful as ever; she has such a handle on writing historical fiction that readers feel instantly transported to the time period. I like that the setting isn¿t traditional, either: The Springsweet takes place on the prairie, many miles away from the big houses and glamorous balls we¿re used to. I¿m always up for a unique setting, and I¿m sure readers will love learning about roughing it in a sod house, too.This particular setting puts Zora in the right situation for some good old-fashioned character-building. Zora was one of my favorite characters in The Vespertine, but I like her even more in The Springsweet. We get to see more of her quick wit and hardworking attitude (which she keeps up despite her sorry state of heartbreak). Readers will enjoy Zora¿s narration immensely.But what¿s a historical novel without a dashing young gentleman? Perfectly fine, apparently. The love interest in The Springsweet is one lady readers will definitely fall for, despite his lack of tie and tails.If you¿re looking for a slower-paced, yet completely absorbing read, try The Springsweet. If Zora¿s narration doesn¿t wheel you in, the concept of a springsweet¿and the touches of magic in the story¿definitely will.
BookAddictDiary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After her adventures in turn-of-the-century Baltimore, Zora finds herself in an odd place. Her life isn't the same, and there's no way she can go back. To help her find her way, Zora is sent out west to live with her aunt in the newly-opened Oklahoma territory. While the hope is that this will allow Zora to get away from all the drama, drama -and romance -always manages to find her. As Zora gets settled into her new life, she finds that she has the ability to help settlers find the right place to dig for water. Her aunt starts to hire her out as a "springsweet," but in her adventures she crosses paths with a mysterious and somewhat dangerous Sooner, and romance inevitably blossoms.I loved The Vespertine. It was one of my favorite YA historical fiction novels of 2011, and I found myself in love with the gothic romance tones and the wonderful characters and scandalous plots that graced the book's pages. I was excited for The Springsweet, but something about getting so far from Baltimore just didn't work for me. We lost the grandeur, beauty and high-class scandals of classy Baltimore and are thrown into the frontier. While I thought I could survive the sudden setting change, it was too much. The tone was gone, the gothic romance style destroyed.Despite this, The Springsweet still had its moments. The story is still well-written and enjoyable to read with a great historical backdrop that hasn't been explored very often in literature. The writing style is simple and straight-forward, and the plot is entertaining. But Springsweet just didn't have the same spark for me as Vespertine.
pacey1927 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished "The Vespertine" and had to jump right into "The Springsweet". I gave "The Vespertine" a five star review but I wish Amazon went higher because I loved "The Springsweet" even more.Why? I liked Amelia from "The Vespertine" a lot, but I love Zora. The book opens with Zora grief stricken and 'a little bit crazy' after the closing events in the first novel. Readers of "The Vespertine" might remember that Zora was a fun, flirty, and frivolous girl in that book. By the end of "The Springsweet", she has grown into a woman that works hard and cares even more about people. With Amelia, I always liked her but I didn't always understand her. Its different with Zora. Another reason I loved "The Springsweet" more is the setting. I love stories of the west and fighting for, claiming and working the homesteads. I loved reading about Zora, her young Aunt Birdie and Birdie's young daughter. Three women having to fight for everything they have? Yes, please. Also, Ms. Mitchell's 'voice' is even stronger here. The writing was beautiful in "The Vespertine"...I was sucked into that tale right away. Here the writing is still gorgeous, but its more mature. The story is even tighter and clearer than in the first novel.I don't think that "The Springsweet" is nearly as dramatic as the first book either. There were some twists but they seemed more mild here. That is a good thing because it fit with the overall mood of the story. I loved Thomas from the first book, but I also loved Emerson here. Emerson wasn't quite the 'dandy' that Thomas was and I think that he brings out the strong woman in Zora and I liked that a lot. I enjoyed watching the two of them meet and get to know each other. I loved Zora's crazy scheme at the beginning of the book to get away from her obligations to get out of mourning and find someone to marry. When Zora's 'gift' shows itself, its almost like an afterthought. The story would have been just as wonderful without the element. Still it does add to the story and puts some of the last bits of the story into play.As with most of my favorite books, I find myself having a hard time writing this review. I don't want to give a single thing away. I found the book to be such a treat (The Vespertine as well) and I can only encourage you to pick up this series. Both books are so different than any I have read before. I am truly excited by these gems and I eagerly await the next book by Ms. Mitchell.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my most favorite reads. I had bought it at a gift shop just for something to read on the long car ride home and ended up loving it! I didn't want it to end. I wish she would continue with these characters. I loved Emerson!
HeatherMcC More than 1 year ago
Saundra Mitchell has done it again. She swept me up into a world that is grounded in history but steeped to perfection in paranormal. Zora's story is heartbreaking, uplifting, and completely inspiring. I never would have thought I could become so smitten with a story set around the land rush of Oklahoma. Saundra's writing is rich and lovely, the kind that propels you headlong into the story along with the main character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book, could not put it down. Its not fair that this is young adult. Dont care, I am fourty and really could relate to her characters. Ms. Mitchell is a really good story teller, the theme of this book is spring water, and her writing is very fluid, enthralling.