Author Ron W. Germaine mixes real-life figures with invented characters to narrate the founding of the Plymouth colony and the complex relationships that blossomed between the settlers and the Native Americans they met in the New World.
The narrator follows several characters, but most central are the stories of Elisabeth Tilley (a character based on a real historical figure), who came to Plymouth as a teenager on the Mayflower, and Squanto, the Patuxet man that served as a guide and interpreter for the English settlers, only to be sold into slavery. We follow Squanto from his home in present-day Maine to Spain (as a slave) to England (where he meets King James I), Newfoundland, and back to the New World. Germaine’s account of Squanto’s pain after being taken from his homeland is emotionally resonant, as is his depiction of his joy at returning.
We follow Tilley to Holland where she meets and falls for a young Rembrandt (Germaine imagines her as the subject of his painting “The Girl in the Picture Frame”), and then to Plymouth where she encounters a Native American girl, Hurit (a fictional character). The two teenagers build a solid friendship that involves cross-cultural learning and respect, spending time in each other’s settlements and growing up alongside one another.
That said, other than the forced enslavement of Squanto, Germaine presents a rather rosy picture of the colonists’ relationship with the indigenous tribes that fails to address the carnage that often resulted. He tacks on an addendum stating that “Despite a positive start, issues of greed, power, control, and mistrust eventually led to war – and English domination,” but this fails to capture the true brutality. Furthermore, the dialogue in the novel does not always ring true; the English pilgrims settling Plymouth certainly would not have called the indigenous “Native Americans,” nor would the Native Americans have called the new arrivals “English settlers.” The facts of the plot, though, are accurate and provide an excellent education on this period of history. Because Germaine is generally so faithful to the facts, the narration can be a little dry, as exposition stretches on for paragraph after paragraph.
IMPROBABLE CONNECTIONS is a remarkably well-researched historical novel and a rich tapestry of history from the founding of the Plymouth Colony that showcases a tender friendship between two teenage girls.
~Lisa Butts for IndieReader