I grew up in a family of Southern women who loved to tell stories. Some of my favorite memories from childhood are of sitting at my grandmother's knee while she told stories of her family who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. History and stories from the past astound me and I could never get enough, even though I had heard many of the tales over and over again! This could be why the new novel, "The Healing" by Jonathan Odell spoke to me so clearly. A young orphaned girl, Violet, is left in the care of an elderly stranger who is called Gran Gran. Gran Gran still lives on the grounds of the rotting plantation where she had grown up a slave. Having no success in getting Violet to speak and unable to break through the child's grief, the old woman searches to find a way to reach her. Gran Gran decides to calm the girl during her nightmares by telling her the stories of the past, hoping that Violet will learn there is hope after hearing the history of her people, their bondage as slaves and the eventual freedom that would come. The story is revealed as Gran Gran speaks the chronicle of her life and those intertwined throughout it to Violet.
At the start of the narrative is the birth of a slave child who is stolen from her mother by the Master's wife in a cruel act of jealousy. Throughout the years when slavery held fast, to the time after the Civil War ended and they were free, the story weaves a magical and tragic tale. The characters are so vivid and poignant that you will believe in every one of them. They are all so perfect in both the good in each of them and in their weaknesses. Odell has written a spot-on work of the South and created a world that we always picture when we think of that time and place. The hot, damp summers. The finery of the Master's house. The dirty fields where the slaves are forced to work. The dangerous, murky swamps that are so foreboding that the slaves dare not escape from their lives of hopelessness for fear of what will happen to them in those places! And if life on the plantation wasn't already enough of a story, Odell adds the character of Polly Shine. Polly is a healing woman brought in by the Master to rid his slave community of the devastating Black Tongue Disease. Master Satterfield is counting on Polly to save his stock and keep him from losing a fortune, but he got more than he bargained for in Polly Shine! As she gains the love of the slave community they began to call her Mother Polly, and the people know she can heal them and save them in every way. As she gains their love and respect she whispers the words, ‘In the beginning God created...." and "freedom" in their ears and soon a spark becomes a flame.
Jonathan Odell has written a beautiful work of art that will have you lost in the world of the past, praying for the salvation of the people and cheering for their eventual victories, no matter how small! If you love historical fiction and tales of hope overcoming evil, you will love this novel and you won't want it to end. The stories of our lives continue on even after we have passed and I would have loved to see how Odell would have played out the generations of these families. Just wonderful is all I can say!
Recommended by Donna Nichols