To use the modern parlance, this book blew me away.
I requested it for review based on the Appalachian setting, and I didn't spend too much time pondering what to expect.
What I got was wonderful.
Our first-person narrator is Jennia Beth Gibbs, a girl who grew up poor in the hills of North Carolina.
Fleeing from paternal abuse, generational poverty, and stifling religion, Jennia Beth headed to New York and transformed herself into Jen-the-editor.
Jen's voice is delightful. She's single, with a portly Chihuahua for companionship, and she tries hard to make her own life while still worrying about the sisters she left behind.
One of Jen's dreams has just come true... she's working at Vida House Publishing, a place where manuscripts are still made of paper and stories change the world. "Slush Mountain" rules the boardroom at Vida House, and it is indeed a mountain of old submissions stacked ceiling high.
Jen never expected to touch- much less read- any of the manuscripts, until the morning one is found resting on her desk.
And that brings us to the second heroine, whose story is told bit by tiny bit. Sarra, a Melungeon girl of other-worldly beauty that is born from her mixed ancestry. The same heritage that makes her lovely to look upon also brands her as sub-human, a soulless blend of Indian, African, and White.
Jen is so caught up in Sarra's tale that she risks her fragile position at Vida House to go back to the hills and seek out the unknown author.
Her odyssey will take her to Looking Glass Gap, the home-that-was-never-home.
If you've read Miss Willie, set in Kentucky, or Christy, set in Tennessee, you have some of idea of what Jennia Beth's girlhood was like.
Now transport that dirt-floor-poor image into the 21st century. Keep in mind both the good and the bad: smoky hills rolling one atop the other, wild and abundant beauty, large families with deep roots, mountain lore and wisdom and superstition, fear-based religion and punishing isolation.
This rural close-knit community breeds certain vices, seemingly without ever counting the cost.
Young marriages between ill-equipped partners.
Multiple children without care for the mother or employment for the father.
Families that "stay together" but allow deep shame and abuse to go on.
Lisa Wingate brings it all to life, sympathetically through Jennia Beth's eyes.
There's a touch of mystery, a thread of adventure, a glimpse of light in the darkness and the first steps to redemption are taken in this tale.
The Story Keeper is, not to be too cliche, a keeper.
Thank you Tyndale House for my review copy!
Lisa Wingate is a popular inspirational speaker, magazine columnist, and national bestselling author of several books, including Tending Roses, Good Hope Road, The Language of Sycamores, and Drenched in Light. Her work was recently honored by the Americans for More Civility for promoting greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa and her family live in Central Texas.