Herb of Grace is one of those rare novels that combines a good story with insights into life and meaningful lessons on living it.
Sarah is a young widow in the Amish community. She is trying to make ends meet while raising two teenage sons by selling the herbs she grows. Her sons help out as they can, younger Caleb getting odd jobs while the older Simon is in an apprenticeship learning to make buggies. Ruth, the herbalist who buys Sarah's herbs, suggests that she consider being a healer. Ruth believes it might be Sarah's calling – a gift from God. Sarah is not so sure.
Henry has been gone from the Amish community for decades when he inherits his aunt's farm. Recovering from disastrous reviews of a gallery showing of his sculptures, he has escaped to the farm, pottery equipment stored in the barn. He is Englisch, never having joined the church. Having left everything behind all those years ago, including his religion, how was he going to be welcomed back?
The novel follows Sarah, trying to understand what God has for her. A very large part of her life is her sons. When Simon begins to feel his way into adulthood, she experiences the anxiety, the difficulty of trusting God, that parents of teenagers know so well. A challenge Sarah faces in her pursuit of a healing role is when she tries to help an older couple, both suffering from a hurt much deeper than her herbs can fix.
There are a number of issues in the novel that gave me much to think about. How does God lead us into the calling for our life? How do we know if a certain someone is God's choice for our life? What do we do when we feel we are called to help others yet are faced with someone in so much need yet refusing what we offer? When is it right to get into somebody else's business?
One theme really stood out to me. Many of the weeds I pull in my vegetable or flower gardens might actually be plants with beneficial characteristics. It made me wonder how many gifts God has given me and I just thought they were weeds in my life.
Herb of grace is a folk name for rue, a bitter and astringent herb used in small quantities for digestive ailments. In this novel, grace comes through to break barriers and restore relationships. Be sure to have your tissues ready, although you may be surprised for the reason. I was.
I have not read too many novels in the Amish genre. I found this on to be realistic, I think. I was surprised at how the teens within the community behaved, sort of like teens in any community. I was surprised that a buggy would have a CD player!
This is a good novel all around. It is a touching story and contains many thought provoking insights into life. I found it to be a very rewarding novel to read. There is a discussion guide at the end of the book and it would be a good choice for reading groups.
You can read the first chapter here.
Adina Senft grew up in a plain house church (not Amish). She holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she teaches as adjunct faculty. Writing as Shelley Bates, she won RWA's RITA Award for Best Inspirational Novel in 2005. She was a Christy Award finalist in 2009 and three of her books have been shortlisted for the American Christian Fiction Writers' Carol Award for book of the year. You can find out more about her and the books she has written at https://shelleybates.wordpress.com/about/.
FaithWords, 320 pages.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.