By: Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin
Publisher: Chiron Books
Publication Date: July 2009
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 12, 2010
Anna was swept up in her dreams. There had been a typhoid outbreak in Martindale and many people had been ravished by the disease. When Erasmus Beaufort, one of the unfortunates, shouted at her, “Be off with you, girl! You’re nothing but sickness and death!” Ruth Curtis, a friend, roused Anna from her nightmare. Her father’s business had been wiped out and it was time for him to go seek his fortunes elsewhere but Anna was going to stay with the Shaker’s. Ruth was one of the three other girls she roomed with at Goshen West. Her Papa would surely come to get her, but when she arrived he told her that if she didn’t want to leave he couldn’t “take [her] back—not ever.” These Shakers were a strange lot and Anna wasn’t so sure she would like it at Goshen and the “hundreds of rules” she would have to abide by. It just wasn’t natural.
Anna soon begrudgingly settled into the routine life of the West Family Shakers. The “morning silences” were odd and they considered work to be some form of worship. The only familiar thing was Brother Seth, a friend of her father. Sally soon became her friend and she was fond of Sister Zenobia, a teacher. An odd man, Henry David Thoreau had come to school and as an outsider, a man of the World, he interested her too, but there was work to be done. The family “took great pride in the herbs, roots, barks, dried flowers, and leaves they processed, packaged, and sold.” She was now a part of this community.
Things were not all well in Goshen because Sally disappeared and there was something drastically wrong with Brother Seth’s comings and goings outside Goshen. There was something unexpectedly menacing waiting for Anna that neither her Papa nor the Shakers could foresee. They said that “one could not be a member of a society without sharing any guilt for that society’s evils,” but just what evil lay lurking around the corner? Was Anna indirectly responsible for the evil lurking in the World? Was she subliminally being coerced to stay with this odd lot of people?
This is a remarkable, historically accurate and fascinating portrait of the Shakers in the 1840s. The tale was not only fascinating, it was completely mesmerizing and I had difficulty putting it down at times. It was a learning experience as well as a great read. It blended the history of the Shakers with such illustrious literary figures as Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne. Their appearances were brief, but telling. This book does touch on the United States conquest in Mexico that is silently interwoven in the plot, but does not surface until the end. In the author’s note there is a brief historical portrait of this group.
Quill says: This is an award-winning story of the Shakers that will not only interest the young adult, but also an older audience.