Disclaimer: The Story Keeper is a review copy provided by Tyndale. Therefore, the format of this review will deviate from my normal blog review format.
“Successful New York editor Jen Gibbs is at the top of her game with her new position at Vida House Publishing—until a mysterious manuscript from an old slush pile appears on her desk. Turning the pages, Jen finds herself drawn in to the life of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in Appalachia at the turn of the twentieth century. A risky hunch may lead to the book’s hidden origins and its unknown author, but when the trial turns toward the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place Jen thought she’d left behind forever, the price of a blockbuster book deal may be high than she’s willing to pay.”
The review blurb on the front of the cover of The Story Keeper compares it to To Kill A Mockingbird, and while I thought such a comparison was both unnecessary and untrue (The Story Keeper is neither as historically significant nor as rich in depth as Mockingbird), The Story Keeper does have its moments. While it has its flaws, for the most part The Story Keeper effectively communicates its themes about confronting one’s past, striving to change things for the better, and forging a new path from a previously stagnant life.
The Story Keeper starts out slow, but the moment Jen reaches Looking Glass Gap, it picks up noticeably with the tension created by the manuscript, Jen’s clashes with Evan Hall, and Jen’s family. Indeed, the second half of the book is noticeably better than the first, when Wingate ditches set-up and exposition to focus on moving the plot along.
The second half is also when less of “The Story Keeper” appears, which is also why this half is better than the first. The use of “The Story Keeper” in the novel was mostly unnecessary as a plot device, and was neither as interesting nor as compelling as Jen’s own story. It’s also difficult to believe that a boy younger than nineteen wrote those first eight chapters, even based off someone else’s story as they were. To be frank, The Story Keeper would have been a much better novel if it was entirely about Jen, her past, and her trip back to her childhood home. Including a mediocre story about an unoriginal romance that reads more like a novel for teenagers only brings down the quality of the novel as a whole and detracts from the real meat of the story, which is Jen’s development. But perhaps I am being too harsh.
The Story Keeper also suffers from a lack of a clear theology. Jen spends a good deal of time thinking about how the Lane’s Hill Brethren used Scripture incorrectly, but never about the correct application. Wingate seems to narrow down faith/Christianity to simply hope for the future, and then only focuses on prayer as the outflow of faith as if prayer was the only way to express faith (“I admire her blind faith, even as I realize that all faith is blind. We can never really know, except in hindsight, how prayers will be answered.” Wingate equates prayer and faith as if they were interchangeable, as if faith was only about prayer. In reality, those two sentences read as non sequiturs. Either both sentences should be about faith or both should be about prayer, but equating “blind faith” with “prayer” is faulty in both theology and syntax. Her assertion that “all faith is blind” is also problematic, since “blind faith” is hardly an accurate definition of faith). Having a clearer theology in the background of the novel would have made Jen’s development even more powerful. As it stands, they both remain slightly murky and unclear.
Essentially, story-wise I felt Jen’s story was better than Rand and Sarra’s, and as a result the second half of the novel was much better than the first. Indeed, I found Rand and Sarra’s distracting and unoriginal. Jen’s story communicated the themes of the novel more clearly and more powerfully. The Story Keeper also suffers from unclear theology and a sweeping generalization of faith that is discouraging to read in a Christian novel.
My rating: 3/5
Genre: Realistic, Christian