Release Date Jul 1, 2013
Publisher Tyndale House Publishers
When Iola Anne Poole, an old-timer on Hatteras Island, passes away in her bed at ninety-one, the struggling young mother in her rental cottage, Tandi Jo Reese, finds herself charged with the task of cleaning out Iola's rambling Victorian house.Running from a messy, dangerous past, Tandi never expects to find more than a temporary hiding place within Iola's walls, but everything changes with the discovery of eighty-one carefully decorated prayer boxes, one for each year, spanning from Iola's youth to her last days. Hidden in the boxes is the story of a lifetime, written on random bits of paper--the hopes and wishes, fears and thoughts of an unassuming but complex woman passing through the seasons of an extraordinary, unsung life filled with journeys of faith, observations on love, and one final lesson that could change everything for Tandi.
Over years of reviewing I've gotten a little more critical and a little less impressed with basic word weaving. I hate to admit this, it makes me feel jaded because writing is hard work and any person who puts the effort into creating the best book they can and seeing it through the difficult editing and publishing process should be celebrated. But not every tale resonates with me, not every author has a magic touch that pulls me into a story. And I know opinions are so subjective and my definition may not be yours. However, I'm talking about books that get me so let me share my thoughts further. Every once in a while I pick up a book, crack the cover and read the first paragraph, then eagerly read the next, and I find myself falling into a story that pulls at me and touches my soul. When this happens, I slow down and savor the journey I was blessed to travel between the title page and the end. A sigh of contentment comes as I close the cover for the final time.
I gravitate to authors who possess the magical ability to tell a good story with vibrant characters and poetic prose. Not everyone will agree with my definition of perfect. Some folks don't need or want depth, they want escapism and entertainment. But I crave beauty in my fiction, and characters I love to hate, hate to love, cheer for, almost even consider praying for because they become so real to me.
The Prayer Box was a pleasure to read. From the first paragraph I relished this novel. There is a poignant, underlying melancholy in Tandi's story. A wistful hope of something she could not define that was missing from her life, and in her brokenness she travels to childhood stomping grounds to find it. Tandi's life is a mess, and this is fiction that probably won't pass the standards of those who expect specific Christian conversion moments or inspirational cleanliness. The struggles in Tandi's world are too real and too challenging to be a pure read. However, those who want honesty tossed in with hope should find much to like in this novel. This novel might move a little slow for some, too, but I love a languid read and this style fit perfectly in a town crushed by a hurricane, and a woman crushed by loving the wrong people and finding solace in pills.
Many descriptions feel like works of art. The driving needs and emotions of the characters are often poignant and painful. The spiritual hungers and simple answers are realistic and the balm that comes from the hope Tandi finds in the creaky, ancient home of a dead woman is touching.
The Prayer Box would be a perfect book to tackle in January. January, when we all have fresh green tendrils of hope that we will make different choices and changes in our lives. That this will be the year we let go of something that holds on tight to our hearts or souls or bodies. Or this year will be when we stand up for ourselves or put our voice out there for the world to hear. Tandi has so much that has gone wrong in her life. And hope is very often a terrifying thing because it kind of demands that we step out in faith.
Fiction is a story. There is no real, brave Tandi outside of the character so well written. But, sometimes, a story can create a catalyst to do one thing differently and that one thing can open the door for another and that small flame of absolute truth about the human character and our very big and good God can ignite in a real life person. I believe that's why Jesus used story. And why the Bible contains so many stories. When God gets hold of the raw clay of a human life, watch out, people are changed and changed people change the world in wide reaching ripples.
I recommend this book, one of the best I've read in quite a while.
Reviewed by: Kelly Klepfer