From Publishers Weekly
Despite its fascinating views of Shakers and other religious movements in the 1820s and '30s, this often intriguing first novel about a young woman's spiritual journey never quite kindles an emotional response. As the novel opens, 13-year-old Naomi's parents and baby brother have been killed in a fire, and she and her three younger siblings have been taken in by their intolerant, Bible-thumping aunt. Told she will be sent to work in a mill, Naomi runs away with her siblings to a Shaker community, known for welcoming orphans ("It was the right thing to do. She just knew it"). After a few years with the Shakers, Naomi's sister is sure she belongs to "the Community," but Naomi, now a gifted healer, hears a voice inside, saying, "It's time for you to go." The questions with which Naomi struggles as she tries to figure out how to become "the woman God meant [her] to be" are compelling, but the way she resolves them via personal communication with God is not. Her eventual decision to be baptized as a Mormon isn't presented in a way to involve readers. In the end, character development takes a backseat to protestations of faith and to cultural history. Ages 12-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8 Set between 1828 and 1835, this novel reads more like a history of the Shaker religion in America and the beginnings of the Mormon community in Ohio than a work of fiction. Naomi Hull, nearly 13; her sister; and two brothers have been orphaned and sent to live with their Aunt Thankful in Portsmouth, NH. When the austere woman tells Naomi that she is sending her to the mill to work, the girl decides that she and her siblings should leave and join a Shaker community. At this point, Heuston focuses on the beliefs and traditions of Shaker life, using poorly developed characters and a spare plot as vehicles to describe this culture. After a while, Naomi begins to wonder about life outside the community. She decides to make her way in the world and finds a position caring for a large family. It is only in this last third of the book that the story becomes somewhat engaging as Naomi meets Joseph Fairbanks, who is from a wealthy family and becomes smitten with her. Though she returns his feelings and they become engaged, she cannot make the commitment as she is constantly searching for a bigger purpose for her life. She becomes interested in the new Mormon faith, and her ultimate choice presents readers with a surprise. Jane Yolen's The Gift of Sarah Barker (Viking, 1981; o.p.) is far better fiction about the Shaker movement. -Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.