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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Shape of Mercy

Susan Meissner’s The Shape of Mercy is not at all the usual type of reading that I do but because I am curious about what is happening in Christian Fiction and Young Adult Literature these days, I decided to take a look at it. And I am happy that I did because The Shape of Mercy represents both of those genres very well, further convincing me in the process that neither genre should be taken for granted.

Meissner’s story will most certainly appeal to young female readers because, at its heart, it is a love story. In fact, it is three love stories. And it will appeal to Christian Fiction fans because of its low key approach to presenting a positive message about the Christian lifestyle and what it has to offer to those who choose to live it.

Lauren Durough, young college student and an only child, has grown into a bit of a rebel when it comes to doing what her family expects her to do. In most ways, she is a product of the privileged lifestyle to which she was born, but Lauren believes that her father is unhappy that he has no son to whom he will be able to turn over the family business when he is ready to retire. That makes her even more determined to blaze her own trail, resulting in her choice of a state school over a private university and her decision to major in English rather than in Business as she was expected to do.

A desire to cover some of her own school expenses leads Lauren to an interesting job transcribing the personal diary of Mercy Hayworth, a young woman who in 1692 Salem was charged with being a witch. Lauren knew that the job would be interesting; she never expected that it would change her life.

The Shape of Mercy is about three very different women: Mercy Hayworth, a nineteen-year-old charged with the 17th century death penalty crime of being a witch; Lauren Durough, the young college student who more than three hundred years later is asked to transcribe the barely legible words from Mercy’s diary; and Abigail Boyles, the elderly ex-librarian in whose family the diary has been passed from generation-to-generation.

Lauren immediately identifies with Mercy Hayworth and the innocent love story recounted in Mercy’s diary while she reluctantly approaches the brutal truth of Mercy’s final days that she knows will be revealed in the diary’s last entries. But Lauren is surprised to find that Abigail, through her own life story, can teach her as much about love, critical choices, prejudice and regrets as Lauren can learn from the much shorter and more tragic life described in Mercy’s diary.

Susan Meissner uses the lives of three very different women, women of vastly different life experiences, to reveal some real truths to her readers. The Shape of Mercy is filled with life lessons that young women will find particularly appealing but, make no mistake about it, it is never too late for any of us to be reminded of what Meissner describes here about preconceived notions and the importance of love in one’s life. This is one of those books that can be read on more than one level – and it might even make some young readers curious enough to do some reading on the Salem Witch Trials, definitely a good thing.

Rated at: 4.0

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