BOOK REVIEW: Gladden the Heart by Olivia Newport

“When you have experienced the Holy Ghost as I have, you would see that it is difficult to turn back.”

When the lively fervor of nineteenth century revivalism endangers the staid customs of the Amish community in the lush but rugged Kishacoquillas Valley of central Pennsylvania in 1847, the Amish church must deal with a divisive question: What is a genuine spiritual experience?

The question turns personal when Susanna’s beloved cousin Noah begins preaching while under trances and even though he is not a minister he gives long sermons that attract increasing attention. Curious, she helps to keep Noah safe during his trances. At the same time Adam, Susanna's intended, feels pressure from the bishop to speak out against the ways of revivalism.

Susanna and Adam are pushed to opposite sides of a controversy that threatens their traditional Amish faith..  Now they must grapple with whether love is possible...even if they come to different conclusions.
When Noah goes missing at a time of day when he often preaches while asleep, circumstances thrust community members with divergent opinions into a crisis that demands they recognize the humanity they share regardless of beliefs.  But can strong-held opinions be softened by the truths that shape their lives? 

This is the part where I sit down and have no idea where to start.  I really really liked this book.  I can't say any one thing that stands out as just 'wow' or 'holy tomatoes batman' but it was a general wrap you up in life and tug you into something bigger than yourself but small enough to embrace one man completely.  Of course, while upsetting the entire community.  Noah was a average Amish man, with a pretty big secret, until one day he 'went under' just after church in full view of his community.  His secret no more, but is he sick (the doctors have all said there is nothing wrong) or just being willful?  To Susanna he was a favorite cousin, one whom she was willing to risk a potential husband and the relationship with her mother to help. Before it's all over, many lives are changed but I had even more questions.

Not being overly familiar with the revival movement I wasn't sure what to expect from this book.  I mean, don't get me wrong I've heard of it, I know a smidge or two, but it's not something I've ever immersed myself in.  And when the revival movement and the Amish faith comes to meet I'm even more in the dark.  Honestly though, this book places you in the moment.  The confusion, the fear, the outright feeling that there is more than meets the eye.  However, it wasn't the revivalism that kept me engaged but instead the individual reactions to something no one understood.  The reactions of Susanna's mother, the reactions of her best English friend Patsy, the reactions of one of the ministers Nikalus, but mostly the reaction of the bishop Shem.  The line where faith meets with personal.

How do you react when something different comes into your life?  How do you react when it is based in your Faith?  I was drawn to the reactions of Shem.  As the bishop, he takes his role seriously to guide and lead his flock.  He is invested in helping them to obey the laws and follow the role that Christ has in their faith. When Noah starts preaching it shakes the entire community but when Nkialus feels like perhaps there is room for the simple separate life AND a more open embracing of the Holy Spirit, there is definitely division in the leadership.  I feel like Shem takes what is happening as a personal affront to his leadership and less about opening up faith.  Following Shem's reactions, I feel like he was less about 
'guiding' his community and more about feeling as though he was losing control over them.  I feel like this book, while about revivalism and the Amish community, is more about how we all react when things within our 'realm' are faced with new/different/change.  Do we react with Nikalus, Shem, or even Adam who was so bound with fear that he couldn't take a stand either way?

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by CelebrateLit and NetGalley.  I was not compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.  I was not required to write a positive review. 

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Gladden the Heart

About Olivia Newport
Olivia Newport’s novels twist through time to discover where faith and passions meet. She chases joy in Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is. Her books include the Avenue of Dreams series set in 1890s Chicago; the Valley of Choice series, which intertwines contemporary and historical Amish stories; the historical Amish Turns of Time series; and Hidden Falls, a warm, contemporary, small-town novel.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

1 comment

  1. Really liked your review! I think this is an interesting era in church history to learn about.