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Sweetwater Creek    by Anne Rivers Siddons Amazon.com order for
Sweetwater Creek
by Anne Rivers Siddons
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2006 (2005)
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* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Charleston, Boykin Spaniels, love, friendship, and loss shape the life of twelve-year-old Emily Parmenter in Sweetwater Creek. Emily's father breeds and sells Boykin Spaniels, an acclaimed breed of hunting dog in South Carolina and the surrounding low country. Sadly, Emily feels quite alone, since her mother walked out on the family when she was only three-years-old and an older brother named Buddy died as a teen. As a result, Emily lacks friends and familial closeness, while having had to shoulder the burden of loss at a young age.

Emily is certainly not physically alone she lives in the modest yet historical family home, Sweetwater, with her father and twin brothers. Clea, their African American cook and housekeeper, and Emily's Aunt Jenny bring some warmth to Emily's life. This is fortunate, as Emily's brothers and father are constantly with the dogs or out hunting. Sadly, Emily is often an afterthought and spends many lonely hours while her father and brothers are off 'doing man things.' Emily's special friend is Elvis, a Boykin Spaniel that she trained and calls her own. Emily and Elvis have the ability to trade silent thoughts, which is also a tool that Emily uses to train her father's Boykin Spaniels for eventual sale as hunting dogs. However, Elvis is not a hunting dog he is Emily's best friend and remains by her side as a constant, loving companion.

Emily also occasionally hears from her deceased brother Buddy via silent messages, which she greatly cherishes as she misses him desperately. Buddy was the one member of the family who spent a lot of time with Emily. The two siblings shared countless hours reading poetry together and Emily thinks about Buddy every day, without fail. The fact that Emily can still hear Buddy after his death is a comfort to her and he guides her in times of need. Strangely and sadly, a dead brother and a loyal dog are Emily's only friends.

Just when it seems nothing will change for Emily, Rhett Foxworth (a wealthy man from a well-connected Charleston family) pays a visit to the Parmenter home to take a look at the Boykin Spaniels. Rhett brings his wife and daughter Lulu along for the visit. Lulu, a withdrawn yet beautiful young woman, is enthralled by the dogs. Her parents advise that she is taking a break from college 'to rest', and a combination of flurried conversation with an attempt by Emily's father to impress the Foxworths leads to an invitation for Lulu to stay indefinitely at Sweetwater. Emily is initially wary and jealous of this mysterious, rich, beautiful college-age young woman. However, being a good-hearted and mature girl, Emily takes the delicate Lulu under her wing and shows her how to train the dogs. Lulu seems to have a knack for it, and the two forge a complex, deep friendship that underlies the bulk of the novel as the pair share a fateful summer together. Lulu's connections help the Parmenter family, Emily has a new friend, and the Parmenters help Lulu, who is suffering after going through an unspoken ordeal.

Siddons has a wonderful knack for describing the lush, southern low country. Her novel has a wonderful blend of complex characters set against the beautiful backdrop of Charleston, as a family nurtures Lulu's delicate soul while Emily gradually matures into a young woman. Emily's ability to connect with Elvis and Buddy add an interesting element to the novel, as does Lulu's dark background that threatens to bubble to the surface. Siddons fans should make sure to pick up Sweetwater Creek, a captivating novel that will not disappoint.

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