Monday, September 27, 2010

Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld (review)

Stranger Here BelowProduct Description

In 1961, when Amazing Grace Jansen, a firecracker from Appalachia, meets Mary Elizabeth Cox, the daughter of a Black southern preacher, at Kentucky s Berea College, they already carry the scars and traces of their mothers troubles. Poor and single, Maze s mother has had to raise her daughter alone and fight to keep a roof over their heads. Mary Elizabeth s mother has carried a shattering grief throughout her life, a loss so great that it has disabled her and isolated her stern husband and her brilliant, talented daughter. The caution this has scored into Mary Elizabeth has made her defensive and too private and limited her ambitions, despite her gifts as a musician. But Maze s earthy fearlessness might be enough to carry them both forward toward lives lived bravely in an angry world that changes by the day. Both of them are drawn to the enigmatic Georginea Ward, an aging idealist who taught at Berea sixty years ago, fell in love with a black man, and suddenly found herself renamed as a sister in a tiny Shaker community. Sister Georgia believes in discipline and simplicity, yes. But, more important, her faith is rooted in fairness and the long reach of unconditional love. This is a novel about three generations of women and the love that makes families where none can be expected.
My take on this book:
This is an amazing story of how ties that bind families together can't be broken, but also how sometimes our family is more than just people we are related to.
The main characters all have one thing in common, the common bond they have is Berea College.
Its 1961 and Amazing Grace Jensen, meets her new roommate Mary Elizabeth Cox  at Berea  College. Maze was raised by a single mom from Appalachia, and M.E. as Maze liked to call her was the only child of a southern black  minister and his wife Sarah. M.E has been sheltered from the truths kept hidden about her mother, truths that isolate her from her talented daughter and husband as well as the women of the community.
Sarah had once been a carefree young girl but tragedy changed all of that for her, and she now barely hangs on, but all her daughter knows is that her mom has "fits"and has been trained what to do when her mother has said fits, but as we know the truth always has a way of coming out, and when Sarah winds up in the county home for coloreds because her dad can no longer take care of her , it takes someone from her mothers past to make M.E. understand the heartaches and tragedy  her mother has experienced.

Maze has issues in her family as well, being raised by a single mother that always had to work hard to keep a roof over their heads, when she winds up taking a job at the Shaker Inn, she could have had no idea how it would impact their lives, this is were their lives start to become intertwined with Sister Georgia, the only remaining shaker in the Pleasant Hill shaker community. Sister Georgia came to the Shaker community after becoming tired of living.
Georginea Ward's story takes us back 60 yrs to when she was a teacher at Berea college, she fell in love with a black man which was not accepted by her wealthy father. Georgia ends the relationship but is never really happy and soon wants to stop living, she winds up going back to a place she had visited 30 years earlier, the Shaker community.There she finally finds peace, and acceptance.
I was immediately drawn into this story, the author does an excellent job of transitioning between past and present in the telling of this story, adding so much more depth to the characters. I could really feel sympathy for M.E.'s character, often feeling shame for the way her mother was.
I really enjoyed reading about the Shaker Religion, something I knew very little about. Sister Georgia was such a gem, with such wisdom and knowledge, if one just takes the time to know her.
A story of intertwining lives and the choices they made, makes this a compelling story that is hard to put down.

Even though I was provided a review copy of this book from the publisher, Unbridled Books, it in no way alters my opinion of this book.


  1. Whew, what a clear and thorough review. All I can say is this is my kind of book. Thanks for the heads up.

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  11. Hi Brenda.

    Just a quick note to thank you for your review of STRANGER HERE BELOW. I'm grateful for your support.

    Joyce H.


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