Friday, November 23, 2007

Entry for January 19, 2007 - In Which She Questions Her Moral Strength (and Reflects on Young Love)

The first book I've read this year is No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull. It's the story of a young Quaker girl, Susanna, living in 1660s England when persecution of the Quakers has started to gain momentum. When her father is jailed for refusing to pay tithes, Susanna moves from her home in the country to a nearby town to be a servant in another Quaker's print shop to help support the family. There she meets and falls in love with Will, the son of a wealthy and powerful merchant in town. Will is questioning his own faith and is drawn to the simplicity of the Quaker meetings, which puts him at odds with his father, who of course attends the state-sanctioned Anglican church. During the months that pass in the story, the persecution of the Quakers intensifies, and Susanna's own faith and strength of character are put to the test -- in more ways than one.

I don't know much about Quakers, and I had no idea there had been such violent persecution in England (and in the colonies -- the book mentions that four Friends were hanged in Massachusetts). So I felt like I learned something, which is always nice. Reading about it also made me wonder (as Susanna did) whether I would be able to stand up to persecution if the time came. I belong to a small and stubborn religious group that has been labeled a "cult" by mainstream denominations -- of course, we have religious freedom in this time and place that weren't part of 1660s England. But still . . . . my son was called an "atheist" at school the other day because he won't go to the "Christian Student Union" meeting that is supposed to be non-demoninational but isn't. That's not exactly the same as being put in the stocks, but still . . .

Susanna has a lot to deal with for a 15-year-old girl, especially after most of the adults in her life are herded off to prison indefinitely for daring to meet for worship. She has a lot of doubt about whether her faith is as strong as theirs, but she just keeps doing what she thinks would be the thing she should do, and I think she ends up being heroic in her own way. Some of the time, though, I think she's selfish -- she knows Will is giving up practically everything about his life to be with her and to follow his new faith, but she doesn't really seem to care. She wants him, and she knows that because she's from the lower classes (and Quaker), she'll never be accepted in his world. So he'll just have to come to hers.

I felt for Will. I thought the book did a believable job developing the rift between Will and his father that becomes a gulf. Although the father is the one who becomes most agitated and violent, there are lots of times when Will's immaturity (he's only 17) leads to the conflict. He had other choices that could have made the situation a little less volatile. That seemed pretty realistic. But besides losing the relationship with his family, Will also loses opportunity. He had a chance for a plum apprenticeship and gives it up -- and I think that had more to do with Susanna than with becoming Quaker. As I read this, I wondered how much of Will's decisions were being made by his mind & faith, and how much by his . . . . loins. But again, that rings pretty true. I very nearly moved to Baton Rouge once -- away from my family and a good job -- just to follow "the love of my life." (I'm really glad I didn't.)

That brings me to the last thing I want to say about this book -- it was a satisfying romance. Hmmmm . . . maybe "satisfying" is not the right word, because things don't turn out in the end the way you want them to. But things turn out the way they ought to turn out. Turnbull did a great job of evoking those emotions of first love -- without being sleazy. Reading this, I can remember that awkwardness two people feel when they first become aware that they are attracted to each other, and the way every sense is intensified when your beloved is near. I was really impressed. The only thing I wish had been a little different is that Susanna's "voice" in the story and Will's "voice" are so similar it's not easy to tell them apart sometimes. The book is written in alternating chapters -- first she tells part of the story, then he tells the next part. That didn't get confusing, but I don't know . . . . I just thought they sounded a little too much alike. Not a fatal flaw, though.

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