At the First Congregational United Church in North Carolina, parishioners tried to call their new pastor Lynne Hinton "pastor." She would have nothing of it. She preferred they just call her Lynne.
Hinton, like her character Charlotte in her newest novel Garden of Faith, wanted to make it clear she is a fallible human being just like the people she preaches to on Sundays.
Amidst sermon preparation, Hinton finds time to explore her inner writer. Garden of Faith is the second in a series featuring the women of Hope Springs, a small town in North Carolina. The first in the series, Friendship Cake, followed the lives of five women as they discovered, and rediscovered, friendship during their foray into the world of cookbooks. Garden of Faith digs deeper into the women's spirits, hopes and futures, only this time the theme is gardens, not cookbooks.
Wonderfully genuine and unprejudiced, Garden of Faith honestly sows a tale of friends with real problems and a knack for surprising the reader. The five special ladies -- Jessie, Louise, Nadine, Beatrice and Charlotte -- are united through friendship and faith, though it may be tenuous at times.
Garden of Faith is without shame a Chick Book. It explores the neurotic intricacies (and don't we all have them) of the ladies of the cookbook club.
Charlotte is the new, young, female pastor of the Hope Springs Community Church. But she is first and foremost, human, and she needs help.
Charlotte can't seem to remember why she received her calling. She doesn't want to be the one to tell people the way of God when she isn't sure what that way is.
Where does a lost preacher go when she needs help? A therapist. Charlotte is no stranger to counseling. As a child she dealt with her mother's fascination with alcohol. Charlotte tried for years to get her mother to attend counseling and go to Al-Anon meetings, but Mom would always make up excuses or back out at the last minute.
Charlotte took care of her mother and her sister her entire adolescence. While her mother spent nights drinking, Charlotte entertained her younger sister. And like Nadine, Charlotte carries her guilt with her. Charlotte knows that her emotions are scattered and confused.
Charlotte makes the book. The questioning of faith is especially interesting through the eyes of a preacher, or rather a Person of God writing about another Person of God.
All of Hinton's characters are believable. Had Charlotte never cursed (she does, on the second page at that) or had she never seen a therapist, which we all know is the mark of a true human, Garden of Faith would have bombed from the beginning.
Jessie was like most children raised in a small town: She wanted out as fast as possible. After putting the children to bed, Jessie and her husband James spent their nights talking about all the places they would travel during their future together.
Their plans remained plans and their dreams were put on hold. When the children were older, James left Jessie. She became the primary caretaker for not only the children, but also her mother and aunt when they were both diagnosed with breast cancer.
The novel explores whether her faith can hold her through one more loss. You hope so. Her life can't take much more depression. Thankfully, Jessie is one of the stronger and more assertive characters -- time has been her friend by healing her wounds.
Nadine also knows loss. Her daughter, Brittany was killed in a car accident. Without that little girl, Nadine's life lost all meaning. She accepts her daughter's death as purely accidental but assumed it had to be her fault because she was the mom, the one who was supposed to take care of Brittany.
Nadine's grief was greater than anyone suspected and she repeatedly attempted to end her life. For her latest attempt, she threw herself in front of a taxi, landing herself in the hospital with a ruptured spleen, broken ribs and a bruised hip. Just a few more aches and pains to add to the many layers of misery Nadine already harbors.
Her friends know that she couldn't have done anything more for her daughter. It's unfortunate Nadine can't feel the same. She carries her anguish with her wherever she goes, but only a select few see it. She's seen so many shrinks that she has learned to disguise the pain when she wants to -- like an addict who can fool those around her so she can get her next fix.
Nadine's doctor's attentiveness leaves a lot to be desired and questions the effectiveness of the mental healthcare system. Sure, this is just a novel, but you have to wonder how often mental patients are dismissed because beds are needed for the physically ill.
Throughout Garden of Faith, friendship and love abound. When friends get sick, the Hope Springs women come to the rescue. It is surprising what these friends will do for each other to offer support.
Only slightly odd, considering its Chick Book status, is Garden of Faith's lack of men. Can't live with them, can't live without them and Garden of Faith is no different. Making occasional appearances is Jessie's on-again/off-again husband, James, and because of him, or to spite him, Jessie becomes a much stronger woman.
The plot may resemble the sappy sweet Steel Magnolias, but make no mistake, this novel has much wisdom: "Being a woman is like water. You can freeze it, boil it, drink it, spill it, leave it in the sun and evaporate it; but it will still be water. And being a woman is the same. You can remove her body parts, take away her children ... break her, dismiss her ... but it will not stop who she is."
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