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Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters by Emily Carpenter
The bestselling author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls returns to uncover a faith healer’s elusive and haunted past.
Book review by Harriet Gross
Every once in a while, a novel comes along that does what only the best novels can do: it challenges its readers while at the same time entertaining them. It raises important questions that are at the heart of a story with twists and turns that must be straightened out. But the most important, most amazing fact of this matter is that the challenge of finding answers to those questions belongs not just to the characters in the tale, but to the readers of it as well.
Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters is of this type. Its author, Emily Carpenter, proved her ability to do this “unwinding” with an earlier series of stories, the last being Burying the Honeysuckle Girls; this one gained praise as a marvel of the mystery-thriller genre set in the supposed lazy quiet of the American South. Carpenter’s newest book does the same – only more so…
Family – generations of family – are at its core.
In every family, if we’re truthful about our own, are folks we love, folks we fear, folks we wish we never even had to meet, let alone be related to. And sometimes, as in this story, someone in one generation wants to – actually needs to – backtrack, to find the genesis of today, to answer present questions by looking deeply into the past.
During our country’s Great Depression, and the years following, faith healers abounded. People needed to believe, and to have folks reinforce their beliefs. Dove, one of the Hawthorn Sisters duet, was one of them. Her beautiful voice gave new life to old spirituals, and brought healing with the touch of her hands. Many years later, a new Hawthorn Sister asks questions: she needs to know if her grandmother’s touted abilities were actually real, because maybe – just maybe – she may have some of them as well…
1934 – Where the tale begins and ends
The tale bounces back and forth between 1934 and what Carpenter calls, simply, “the present.” Dove is an old woman looking back as the story begins, and that is also where it ends. Many mysteries are explored in between – real things lost and found, questions asked and answered. Carpenter presents all in 55 short chapters that lead the reader through this adventure. It is not the easiest modern novel to read, but neither is it the most difficult. As you follow the questions, you also find the richly rewarding answers that Dove’s granddaughter, the main character in this story, seeks while she herself relives the role of her grandmother: to find healing for herself, and for her entire family.
The Hawthorn tree
Of prime significance throughout the tale is the Hawthorn tree. It was a tradition in this family to plant one whenever a daughter was born, never to cut its blooms, always to hide secrets. Readers have the chance to follow the path that leads, finally, to long-sought revelations – things at once both punishing and protective.
When you choose to read this book, you set yourself off on this long path. It requires some patience to negotiate, and some belief – the kind that faith healers once inspired – that there will be satisfaction at the end of the trail. Perhaps this kind of faith can serve as a metaphor for our pandemic time: we ask the questions we want to ask…we don’t always get the answers we want to hear…but the truth is always what it is. To accept and believe as such brings the healing we seek. This attitude can touch a nerve in every reader’s own life.
The widely praised Reviving the Hawthorn Sisters, published this year by Lake Union of Seattle, is widely available in bookstores and on line. Prices vary, starting in paperback at $10.99.
Emily Carpenter is the critically acclaimed bestselling author of the suspense novels including Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, The Weight of Lies and Every Single Secret. Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Emily was passionate about writing even as a little girl. That’s where she found her joy, and still does.
After she graduated from Auburn University with a BA in Speech Communications and two minors in Journalism and Theater, Emily moved to New York City with her husband. There, she worked as an actor, producer, screenwriter, and behind-the-scenes soap opera assistant for the CBS shows, As the World Turns and Guiding Light.
She started down the path to become an author upon moving to Atlanta, Georgia, and lives there today with her family. During her journey, she learned the importance of patience, diligence and optimism. Her advice to new writers? Find your network; they will encourage you to keep telling your stories.
About GREAT THOUGHTS, GREAT READERS Founder, Andrea Peskind Katz
Andrea Peskind Katz runs Great Thoughts, Great Readers, a Book Salon presented via her private FB group where approximately 5000 prolific readers and authors interact. She also founded Greatthoughts.com, a lifestyle website blog focusing on Great Books and Great Travel. To quote Robert Frost, she created her “second act” career to “unite my avocation and my vocation”. After 20 years in high pressure sales, Andrea retired to spend time doing what she loves best: hanging with her family, reading good books