Published in January 2013 by Little, Brown and Co.
It had been but a few hours since her father had threatened them. Had he come at Mama with a shovel? Crept in and dropped a fieldstone so close to Ben as he sat on the floor that his fingers had near been crushed? Was this the night he’d swiped at them all with a broken bottle and left a gash the length of a hare’s ear on Mama’s arm? Polly often found it difficult to separate his rages one from the next.
It’s Massachusetts, 1842 and fifteen-year old Polly Kimball accidently sets fire to her family’s farm, killing her father. To escape from whatever fate awaits her, Polly and her younger brother Ben are sent by their mother to live in the Shaker community, City of Hope. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival that she finds a kindred soul in Sister Charity, a young Shaker outsider with mysterious marks covering her body. For the first time ever, Polly thinks that she might find the peace that she has always been looking for. But what the girl doesn’t know is that Simon Pryor, a fire inspector, is searching for her and other survivors of the Kimball farm fire. The Visionist is Rachel Urquhart’s superb debut about love, faith, and hope even after so much has been lost.
Guys, The Visionist came out of nowhere and just made my end-of-the-year reading so much better.
I’m not someone who normally reads historical fiction. And the novel’s beginning was kind of slow, but there was something so authentic about this story that I had to continue reading.
The novel’s title comes from the time period the book is set in. This was a time of change for Shaker communities as many Shaker girls across the Northeast were receiving mystical visions. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival to the City of Hope, that she too has visions. When Polly becomes a Visionist, Sister Charity is willing to sacrifice everything in her belief of Polly’s goodness. But not all believe in Polly’s visions or her goodness. As holy as some Shakers think they are, there are a few who have their own selfish motives.
While reading the novel, I felt as though I was transported back into the 1840s. I heard of Quakers and even of Shaker furniture, but Shakers themselves? Nope. The details that went into this novel were numerous. Readers learned of the Shakers ways which include rules about when girls should start covering their hair, to the separation of males and females, to exactly how one should eat their food. There is a rule for everything.
Though the Shaker ways seem strange to Polly, they’re a welcome change from her previous life. Growing up, fear played a bigger role in her life than love. Even her mother won’t protect her from her alcoholic father’s rages. Now that he’s gone, memories of Polly’s father still haunts her. It’s almost as though he’s still alive.
I found The Visionist to be an engrossing read. The characters were honest and flawed, the Shaker community was interesting to read about, and the writing had passages that were just beautiful. I hope Urquhart writes a sequel to the book. I would love to learn of Polly’s fate. My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.