BOOK REVIEW: The Whispering of the Willows by Tonya Jewel Blessing

A 1920s' saga of Emerald Ashby coming of age. Set against the superstitions and old time religion in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, author Tonya Jewel Blessing tells a difficult, yet redemptive story of a blossoming young woman who is accompanied by her friends and her foes on a journey towards hope and healing. Love weaves through gut-wrenching circumstances and dismal poverty where Emerald Ashby grows strong despite grievous wrongs committed against her.

Synopsis: Eighth grade Emie is about to learn some hard lessons when a disturbed young man is thrust into her life by her abusive father and enabling mother. The folk faith of the Appalachian community becomes creative, taking a gamble against the local preacher, in their unique form of hospitality. If you like the emotive movie, Nell, or the writing of Chris Fabry's Dogwood, (a Lifetime movie) you will love The Whispering of the Willows.

Trigger Warning:  While this is an amazing story it is not necessarily appropriate for all readers.  It does contain the sexual assault of a teen girl and the aftermath of thereof.  It is dealt with in a manner of faith however that does not lessen the need to offer this warning.

Warnings out of the way lets talk nitty-gritty.

I found it interesting that the very front of the book is an editor's note regarding the idea of this to be read and discussed by mother's and young daughters.  While, in theory this is something important that children and young adults need to have the tools to deal with, I also feel that there is a massive (beyond huge) audience out there that are more at risk that do not have parents/guardians/trusted adults to have these conversations with.  I'm not sure that I personally could blanket recommend this book even though it is handled through faith.

Before I get too deep into this and talk about what I loved about this book I need to mention a couple of little 'other things'.   There were a couple of editing glitches where a much needed 'the' was left out.  Several times the term 'love aunt' was used in reference to Auntie Ada, which read awkwardly.  My final grip, (I know sorry!) was that Emerald and Emie were used  interchangeably, while not that bad but in awkward ways.  The narrator voice would switch back and forth, several paragraphs using Emie then randomly throwing out Emerald.  I can see that in conversation but it was distracting otherwise.  It wasn't like there was need to re identify her, she was the main character.  Oh, that is out of the way.

Emie (Emerald) was a likeable character.  The characters were so well developed that you loved with all your heart, you detested with all your might, and you prayed right along with them as issues and resolutions came to pass.  Naivete was the rule in the holler during this time period.  Even at 14, Emie wasn't exactly sure what was happening but she knew it was bad.  Rudy, at 14, had know since they met that he loved Emie and they were meant to be together; despite what happened.  There is so much more to this story than Emie and Rudy but an entirely community and family to embrace and weave together.  Yes, it's a pretty heavy story.  But even in the darkness there was so much light. 

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by BookCrash.  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.

UPDATE:  I have recently heard from the publisher regarding a few of the things that I mentioned above that bothered me.  The term 'love aunt' is being changed for all future books and printings.  Also the issue with Emerald/Emie in the narrator voice has been corrected in 40 different instances.  While these were minor-ish issues I appreciate the openness of the publisher and author to take feedback and make decisions to improve future printings.  So when you purchase your copy these things have already been address.  (08.28.2017)

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The Whispering of the Willows

About Tonya Jewel Blessing 
Growing up Tonya Blessing spent numerous vacations and holidays in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. Most of her adult life has been spent in full-time ministry with a focus on helping women. She has traveled nationally and internationally as a conference speaker. For a number of years, Tonya and her husband operated a retreat facility in Colorado for pastors and missionaries.
She and her husband currently live in South Africa. They are the directors of Strong Cross Ministries, a non-profit organization that assists local churches in providing humanitarian relief and spiritual reconciliation. She is currently pursuing a degree in pastoral ministries. Tonya has written a number of devotionals geared toward women in ministry. The Whispering of the Willows is her first novel.​

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  1. Thank you! I'll have to pick this one up!

    1. It really is very good! I am so glad I chose to review it and that I own the book as it is definitely worth a re-read!