Front Street (Asheville, N.C.).
Suggested retail price: $16.95 (US)
Audience: Ages 12 and up 2002 AML Award: Young Adult Literature: Honorable Mention
First, I must preface this review by noting that Kimberley Heuston andI write for the same audiance, but I'm not jealous in the least. I ama very generous person by nature and I realize sometimes -- on rareoccation -- things can be successful even if they are done completelywrong.
The Shakeress is a -- very -- successful book. Heuston createscredible characters that, in spite of their "niceiousity" are veryendearing. Her storyline, though vaguely predictable (no big twists),is surprisingly compelling -- almost riveting. But the most tellingsign that this is a good story and a successful book is that aftersetting it down -- I walked away feeling that Naomi Hull, theprotagonist, is my friend. I respect and admire her.
The Shakeress is set in the early 1800's. It is a story aboutfour children, Naomi is thirteen at the beginning of the book, whoseparents and younger brother are killed in a house fire. They go tolive with an aunt who makes them feel unwelcome and is planning tosend Naomi off to work in the textile mills as an indentured servant(a happy slave). Of course, Naomi feel threatened and prays for help.She feels prompted to leave her aunt's house and move to a Shakercolony. Her brothers and sisters seem to fit in well there, but shecan never fit in. At the age of 16 she leave the colony to go be aprivate nurse to a woman who is desperately ill with a chronic liverdisease. A couple of missionaries of the Mormon type get to herbefore Naomi can get there, and they heal her. She accepts anotherposition in a nearby town as the local wise-woman/midwife, living witha family who is interested in Mormon teachings. After a few yearspass the youngest, to whom Naomi is very attached, becomes very illwith appedicitis. Although, it isn't clear (and in that time periodit wouldn't be) it appears the boy's appendix ruptures -- a certaindeath sentence. Naomi is called in. She tries to help him, butrealizes there is noithing to be done and resigns herself to makinghim more comfortable. But then the boy's older brothers, who havejoined the Mormon Church and have receive the Priesthood, arrive andgive him a blessing. The boy doesn't recover immediately, butimmediate improvement and relief is apparent.
Naomi, who is very religious by nature, is taken by the power andspirituality of the moment and eventually moves to Kirtland, Ohio tojoin the Church.
This book is a good tool for teaching other writer (like me) how towrite religious fiction. It could easily have been happy and sweet --or preachy -- but instead the author chose to have a resurved,understated tone.
Woody Allen said not to confuse the artist and the man, but goodwriting is so intimate it's hard not get glimpces of something thatappears to be the writer soul. It appear Heuston has a beautiful soul-- a precious soul.
© 2002 Paris Anderson <