Genre: historical fiction; fantasy; Inspirational fiction
Plot Summary: [description from Barnes and Noble] What if you had the power to amend choices you made in the past? Would you do it even if it changed everything? Mercy Land has made some unexpected choices for a young woman in the 1930s. The sheltered daughter of a traveling preacher, she chooses to leave her rural community to move to nearby Bay City on the warm, gulf-waters of southern Alabama. There she finds a job at the local paper and spends seven years making herself indispensable to old Doc Philips, the publisher and editor. Then she gets a frantic call at dawn—it’s the biggest news story of her life, and she can’t print a word of it. Doc has come into possession of a curious book that maps the lives of everyone in Bay City—decisions they’ve made in the past, and how those choices affect the future. Mercy and Doc are consumed by the mystery locked between the pages—Doc because he hopes to right a very old wrong, and Mercy because she wants to fulfill the book’s strange purpose. But when a mystery from Mercy’s past arrives by train, she begins to understand that she will have to make choices that will deeply affect everyone she loves—forever.
My Review: This sounded like an all-around good read, so I happily dove right into it. I read it quite quickly, but by the time I closed it after finishing it, I had mixed feelings…
I’ll start with the positives: Vibrant characters set in the hot south in a Mayberry-like town made for a great summer read! It also had a wonderful narrative voice with colorful word pictures and an original, intriguing story plot. You could taste the lemonade, feel the breeze coming in the kitchen window, hear the squeak of the porch swing, feel the stuffiness of the car in the pouring rain. I love it when you can feel the world of the story.
We are told that the book that comes into Doc and Mercy’s possession shows the viewer other people’s lives. But we are never actually shown that ourselves. It would have drawn me more deeply into the story if I could see what the main characters are seeing, instead of watching them watch something interesting. I guess I felt left out. Many scenes felt like they didn’t serve a reason or seem necessary to the plot.
One of my pet peeves is repetition in books, and unfortunately this story has it’s share of it. “The book came to us for a purpose, Mercy. We just need to find out why…” We are told this over and over again. The book tries to survive on suspense, but that suspense often felt like a rubber band stretched far too long.
One of the things our heroine, Mercy, learns is to become more confident in who she is, and she finds the courage to stay true and do the right thing in the end. I love characters who discover their identity because that is something that I can currently identify with. But Mercy learns that “who she is” is where she was born and raised—a simple backwoods community. I believe that we are shaped somewhat by where we come from, but if that was all we were made of, I don’t think we could stand very strong in this world. Some people come from very dysfunctional backgrounds and have to overcome that part of their lives. But they are more than where they’re from. Or, in my case, I had made the area where I was born and raised so much a part of my identity, that when circumstances forced my family to move, I was devastated. I wasn’t sure I knew who I was anymore. I had to ultimately learn to bloom where God planted me and hold on loosely, even though I acknowledge that I was shaped in large part by my hometown where I grew up.
Another thing that bothered me was the author’s treatment of the supernatural. When confronted by demonic forces, Doc and Ida Mae try to physically fence off Mercy as she relies on herself and her background to ward the evil off. This troubled me greatly, especially since this book is coming from the “Christian fiction” genre. In that situation, shouldn’t she be claiming the victory she has in Jesus, and relying on Him? If she belongs to Christ, He is her identity! That is the only way to overcome our spiritual enemies. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, as the book of Ephesians says. As Christians, our identity is not where we were raised (although that can help form our personalities and values). We realize that our identity is in Jesus and we are complete in Him, if we are born-again believers.
The ending had too many vague threads left hanging. And in the end I felt that after all the suspense that had strung me along, the real purpose of the unusual book felt like a bit of a letdown.
Would I recommend this book? Well, even though I have my hackles, it certainly is thought-provoking and I recommend it on that score. Anybody can learn a thing or two and benefit from reading it. I think this could be a good book for teens, since it shows that the choices we make are not reversible. We cannot go back and undo the past, but we can be aware of the effect our present choices can have on the future. A great reminder in the day and age of Instant-Now and Don’t-Think-Twice.
Have you ever read this book? Feel free to share your thoughts!
By the way, I kept imagining the character of John Quincy looking like John Cusack…