A book review for parents
This Christian historical romance book is by Ann H. Gabhart and is published by Revell, a division of the Baker Publishing Group.
The Believer is not age level ranked. It has been marketed for adults and young adults.
After her father's sudden death, 20-year-old Elizabeth Duncan finds herself an orphan and in charge of her younger brother and sister. With winter just around the corner, she realizes she must either marry the unsavory Colton Linley, the owner of the cabin and land they live in and on, or her family must find their way to the Shaker village in the next country. Believing God is leading them to the Shakers, people known for their kindness to orphans, they make their way to Harmony Hill. The Shakers welcome the children, but in return for their kindness, the children are expected to work hard and learn the ways of the Shakers. Raised a Christian, Elizabeth finds some of the Shaker beliefs strange and difficult to follow, but she is thankful to have plenty to eat and a place for her family to stay.
What she doesn't count on are the feelings she develops for a Shaker named Ethan. Ethan started with the Shakers as an orphan. Although Ethan tries to keep his Shaker vows, which includes a life of singleness, he finds he has feelings for Elizabeth. Having promised her siblings that they would leave in the spring if things didn't work out with the Shakers, Elizabeth leaves the village for her siblings' sake and to keep Ethan from breaking his vow of chastity. However, only her sister, Hannah, comes with her. Payton, her brother, elects to stay with the Shakers. Elizabeth and Hannah find refuge with a shopkeeper in the village and are safe until Colton Linley tracks them down. Ethan, who has followed them, keeps them safe until the sheriff arrives to arrest Colton for the murder of Elizabeth's father. Eventually, Ethan decides his place in the world is with Elizabeth as his wife.
Elizabeth and her siblings have been raised as Bible-believing Christians by their parents, especially their mother. Among their father's things was the family Bible. The family believes in praying and seeing God answer those prayers. A Christian couple, Preacher and Mama Joe, raised Ethan until he was 6. The Shakers are devoted to following the Lord, especially in adhering to hard work, vows of chastity, confession of sins and separation from the world. Most of the Shakers desire to be seen as devout, and they focus on wanting a relationship with God. Most also read their Bibles, participate in worship and strive to be kind to each other.
Elizabeth's father is the family head and is lovingly obeyed. Elizabeth acknowledges the authority of Colton Linley as the rightful owner of their home and acreage. After the death of their father, her brother and sister obey Elizabeth. The Shakers have a well-developed system of authority, which includes mentors to young believers, individual confessors for sins and watchers who insure that everyone in the community obeys the rules. The sheriff is the town's authority.
Other Belief Systems
The Shaker belief system is presented as it was lived and perhaps strangely thought of, but not particularly as a cult or wrong in their beliefs on Jesus Christ and salvation through grace. Theirs is a works-based belief with the ideas and words of their founder, Mother Ann, having as much or more importance than the words of the Bible.
Ethan's biological father, Hawk Boyd, kidnaps Ethan as a young boy at knifepoint. Hawk also threatens to kill Preacher Joe. An unknown arsonist sets several fires. Hawk robs Ethan and Brother Issachar, Ethan's mentor, with a knife. Hawk stabs Brother Issachar without provocation. His wound becomes infected, leading to Issachar's painful death. A gun is pointed at Ethan, and a fight ensues for the weapon. The intentional poisoning of Elizabeth's father is not seen but is insinuated.
Ethan and Elizabeth share one kiss. Fully clothed, Ethan and Elizabeth enjoy a swim together that awakens sexual tension between the two. Once aware of their emotional feelings for each other, even a slight brush against his/her hand or an innocent glance across the room in either ones' direction brings that excitement back into their minds.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What does Elizabeth pray for after her father dies?
How is a seed packet the answer to her prayers?
Describe a time when you needed God's direction and asked for it.
How did God answer your prayers?
- What is Ethan's fear about his biological father?
Is this a logical concern? Why or why not?
What Scriptures would you use to help him understand that he is a new creature in Christ?
- What do the Shakers do to keep separate from the world?
What do they do to be in the world but not a part of it?
How do their actions line up with what the Bible says?
How do they not line up with what the Bible says?
- How does Elizabeth's family view Hannah's free spirit?
How does the Shaker community view it?
How can two views about the same person be so different?
How do you think God views Hannah?
- Why does Elizabeth leave the Shaker community?
How does she hope her actions will protect Ethan?
What would you have done if you were in her place?
- Why does Ethan leave the Shakers?
After he saves Elizabeth from Colton Linely, why does he feel stuck?
What makes his decision so difficult?
How does your training as a child affect what you do as an adult?
Do you think Ethan made the right choice? Why or why not?
The Shaker community of Harmony Hill is obviously a part of The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. The book does not question whether the beliefs of this group are in line with the teachings of the Bible. You may want your child to do some research on the Shakers to better understand the differences between the Shakers' views and yours, especially about Jesus Christ and the element of grace. The Shakers see Jesus as the male Christ in human form, and Mother Ann as the female Christ in human form. They adhere to four major tenets: remaining chaste, living in community, confessing their sins and separating from the world.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.