An enthralling debut novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge - but perhaps not - in an 1840s Shaker community.
In this exquisite, transporting debut, 15-year-old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm, killing her abusive father. She and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called The City of Hope. It is the Era of Manifestations, when young girls in Shaker enclaves all across the Northeast are experiencing extraordinary mystical visions, earning them the honorific of "Visionist" and bringing renown to their settlements.
The City of Hope has not yet been blessed with a Visionist, but that changes when Polly arrives and is unexpectedly exalted. As she struggles to keep her dark secrets concealed in the face of increasing scrutiny, Polly finds herself in a life-changing friendship with a young Shaker sister named Charity, a girl who will stake everything - including her faith - on Polly's honesty and purity.
©2014 Rachel Urquhart (P)2013 Hachette Audio
Having grown up a few miles from the original Shaker upstate NY settlement in the US and having visited several former Shaker communities in NY, Massachusetts and Kentucky, I was intrigued by the premise of this novel. The book does a great job of exploring the nuances of Shaker life as experienced from both the inside and outside, all in the context of an engaging story. While Shakers tend to be remembered today for their expert hand-craftsmanship, this was only one expression of their belief system, and while many of their beliefs seem bizarre, others have a startlingly modern ring, including the equality of women and a belief in the feminine aspect of God. Well worthwhile.
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This compelling story is told in three alternating voices, Polly, Sister Charity and Simon Pryor. Fifteen year old Polly and her little brother Ben are brought to the City of Hope, home of the Shakers. They are left there by their abused and distraught mother.
Polly is haunted with the belief that she set fire to the family farm, most likely killing her abusive father while he was passed out in his bed.
Polly struggles in the Shaker community to prove her purity all the while consumed with guilt; she considers herself a murderer.
When she displays what the elders believe is a mystical vision, Polly becomes the "Visionist" the colony has been waiting for. Polly struggles to become the perfect Shaker, yet she refuses to confess her "sins" to the elders. Polly faces suspicion and scrutiny and yet Sister Charity her best friend is willing to risk everything for Polly. Simon Pryor wants to rescue Polly, her mother and brother and hopes to reunite the family.
This book was interesting, well written, well researched and expertly narrated. This first time author created engaging characters that made this book so good. I just didn't want this book to end
Artistic Director of Healdsburg Ballet I love reading
This book had every element you could want to get lost in.
Especially showing the strength of women and the labour they have to endure.
Humanitarian Aid Worker living in Central Asia.
I enjoyed listening to this book for all of its Shaker life information. I found the main characters to be believable. I do wish the book had continued a bit longer to fully flesh out the main male character and to hear from Polly one last time.
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