Author: Jane Yolen
My rating: 4 of 5
It is truly stifling to be a free spirit in a world bound up with rules and ceremony. So Sarah finds to be true living in a highly structured Shaker community where every action is watched and judged. Yet though the consequences may be severe if she’s caught, she still dares to slip away to be alone and delight in the birds and beauty surrounding their small community. Meanwhile, Abel finds himself questioning the same rigid Shaker rules, struggling to match them with both reason and with the rampaging thoughts and feelings that growing up is forcing him through. And when he encounters Sarah, when he truly notices her for the first time, something changes irrevocably in a way that would be direly condemned in their society that forbids nearly all interaction between men and women.
How should I say this . . . The Gift of Sarah Barker, based on its cover, is exactly the sort of book I hate: sordid romance made to seem more thrilling by the danger of a highly disapproving society. If it hadn’t been written by Jane Yolen, I would never have even tried reading it. I’m glad I got past the cover (gross misrepresentation, by the way) and gave the story a try. What I found within was an intriguing historical novel, told in two voices, revealing a fascinating view of a most unusual community. I found out things about the Shaker community in the 1850’s that I had never heard of before, so that was interesting. Moreover, Sarah and Abel are well developed individuals who struggle with all sorts of complex issues (ones that are actually applicable to normal people today) and who have characters that I truly enjoyed reading–not just love-struck obsessives. There is a love story involved, true, but it doesn’t take up nearly so much of the book as I had expected AND it’s actually dealt with realistically. I actually would really recommend The Gift of Sarah Barker, especially to young adult (and older) readers who enjoy historical fiction or are interested in this time period.