PUBLICATION DATE: JULY 1, 2011
fter being estranged from her family at a young age, Lacey Bishop goes to live with a preacher and his wife. Miss Mona has a chronic illness, and Lacey becomes her caregiver. Over the next few years, Lacey’s life becomes even more unusual. An orphaned infant, Miss Mona’s death, and Lacey’s dubious marriage to the widowed preacher all lead to a place in which Lacey never pictured herself: a Shaker village.
When his young wife dies, Isaac Kingston finds himself with nowhere to go. His father-in-law blames him for Ella’s death, so his life in Louisville is basically over. After a seemingly coincidental meeting with a Shaker man, Isaac finds himself going back to the village with him. But the odd things he encounters there have Isaac questioning everything he has ever known.
Set in a Shaker village in Kentucky, The Blessed takes a look at this little-known society, while ultimately telling a story of hope and forgiveness.
Before I picked up this novel, I thought that the Shakers were pretty much the same as the Amish, only with more enthusiastic worship services. I had never studied or researched anything about them. So, before I started reading, I went to the only place I go on the Web when I want semi-useful information: Wikipedia.
Wow, was I wrong about the Shakers (and my apologies to the Amish). One thing in particular that was especially surprising to me was that the Shakers thought that marriage was evil and lived a life of celibacy – everyone lived as brothers and sisters. It seems that this would make it very difficult for a religion to survive, if only for the fact that there would be no children naturally born into the community. (In fact, according to Wikipedia, there are currently only five surviving members who belong to the Shaker religion).
Getting to the actual novel, I thought the best part was the story. Even though the setting was strange, the plot was interesting and kept me reading, as did the characters. I really liked Lacey, especially when she was constantly thinking through what she believed. She was living with this odd group of people who had beliefs that I would consider to be blasphemous (since the Shakers’ founder, “Mother Ann,” claimed to be a female Christ), yet Lacey’s faith was stronger than their persuasions. I liked it when she would examine something that the Shakers told her through the lens of what she knew to be true from the Bible and find their beliefs lacking. Her faith was based on her belief in Christ and the Bible, and her knowledge of the Scripture and how to apply it to her life was refreshing.
I also enjoyed a character that wasn’t even actually in the book. Lacey’s friend Miss Mona, who we were only told about during thoughts of the past, was such a huge influence in Lacey’s life. I liked how Lacey would think back to what she and Miss Mona had read from the Bible and then apply it to her own life. There were people like this in Isaac’s life, too, and it was a great example of the effect we can have on the people around us. You may never know what seeds are being sown.
The romance in this story kind of takes a backseat, since Lacey and Isaac are living in the Shaker village where men and women seldom have any interaction. But, this also makes for an interesting romantic saga. The obstacles that are there to overcome are immense, and seemingly impossible. Also the fact that families do not exist in the Shaker village made for some heartbreaking scenes between Lacey and her adopted daughter, Rachel.
Like I said earlier, I really liked the story part of this novel. Ann Gabhart is a talented writer who makes you feel as if you are right in the setting of the story and completely involved in the lives of the characters. However, the setting of the Shaker village was just too much for me. I couldn’t get past the complete untruths that were taught in this community, even considering that Lacey was constantly disagreeing with those beliefs. Some might find the Shaker religion fascinating; I just found it bizarre and unsettling, which decreased my overall enjoyment of the novel.