The Hallelujah Lass: A Story Based on the Life of Salvation Army Pioneer Eliza Shirley
A book review for parents
This juvenile fiction book in the "Daughters of the Faith" series by Wendy Lawton is published by Moody Publishers.
The Hallelujah Lass is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
The proper Victorian-era daughter of a minister, Eliza Shirley at first believes that faith is a private matter and salvation comes through good works. When her community is turned upside-down by a group of preaching women whose faith affects lives in transformative ways, Eliza and her best friend, Beck, are captivated. By the time she is 16, Eliza has joined the women, whose group has adopted the name Salvation Army. At 17, she takes her evangelistic work to America, where her parents work alongside her to preach the Gospel of Jesus and change lives. As a result of her determination and God's blessing, the Salvation Army takes root in America.
This story centers on Christian faith. Both of Eliza's parents are Christians, and her mother prides herself in having a "fiery faith." When Eliza comes forward in church to pray for salvation, Beck (her best friend) is concerned because Eliza believes in salvation by works. When Eliza later lays down her pride to respond to Christ in a more meaningful way and embrace salvation by faith, Beck is relieved and thrilled. The two become spiritual sisters and encourage each other's service and growth.
Because this series appeals primarily to girls, the author develops the theme of women's roles in ministry. It is an issue in Eliza's culture and even in her home, but Lawton shows how important it is for girls to find their particular ministries. Her handling of the issue is thoughtful and sensitive.
Passing references to biblical ideas and passages reinforce how faith is an everyday part of their thinking. References to standing in the gap, sharing testimonies, wandering in the desert, the armor of God and the blowing of the Holy Spirit are a few examples.
In her ministry with the Salvation Army, Eliza learns what faith really means. She learns to rely on the Lord to take care of her daily needs and the needs of the ministry. She prays a lot, often publicly, and often with her family or friends. God answers her prayers.
Eliza is respectful toward her parents, even when she disagrees or is impatient with them. When she is ready to join the Salvation Army but her parents want her to wait, she makes it a matter of prayer and says outright that she knows it is right to respect their decisions.
Other Belief Systems
The ladies of the Salvation Army are controversial, and their open-air preaching incites riots. Although the violence is not extreme or graphic, it does range from having objects thrown at the ladies to people being injured and bloodied by ax handles in the riots. One man is heard screaming that his ear has been bitten off.
There is also a character, Katie, whose decision to follow Christ openly results in beatings from her husband. Lawton never describes the actual beatings, but Eliza and the preaching ladies discuss Katie's injuries. It is worth noting that her abusive husband ultimately comes to faith in Christ and repents.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How does Eliza's understanding of salvation change?
- Katie boldly stands up for Christ despite the retaliation of her husband, Jimmy Docker.
What would give her that kind of courage?
- Read 1 Peter 3:1-2 and see if you can account for the change in Jimmy. Eliza's mother loves what she calls a fiery faith.
What do you think that means?
Is that kind of faith superior to other kinds?
What other kinds are there, and how might they be used just as effectively?
How would you describe your faith?
- Eliza's mother encourages her daughter to finish the linens for her bottom drawer.
What did that represent in her culture?
Do you think she ever finished?
- Think about the wonderful women who mentor Eliza in her young faith — her mother, Sister Reynolds, Beck and Annie.
What does Eliza learn from each one?
- How easy would it have been for Eliza to turn her head away from the social ills around her?
Is there anything you have a burden for that you have not fully responded to yet?
- Relationships are important to girls and women.
How do Eliza and Beck model godly friendship?
Do you have any friendships like that?
Have you ever prayed to God for a friend?
- The more Eliza digs into her faith and focuses on service, the more her priorities and interests change.
What are some of the ways she changes over the course of the story?
What priorities and interests bring her satisfaction?
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.