In The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate, Jen Gibbs has just moved up in her publishing career to work with the prestigious Vida House Publishing in New York. A competitive former coworker is there as well. The head, George Vida, has what’s called Slush Mountain in the conference room – a pile of manuscripts that for various reasons were not able to be returned to the owners. A cardinal rule at Vida House is that no one touches Slush Mountain.
So when Jen discovers an old manila envelope on her desk with a manuscript containing a hand-drawn cover, she can’t help but wonder if someone, perhaps her old coworker, is setting her up for a fall, making it look like she took one of Slush Mountain’s old manuscripts to peruse. But curiosity gets the better of her, and as she starts reading it, she’s drawn into the story of Sarra, a teenage Melungeon girl in Appalachia in the late 1800s. The Melungeons were a mixture of three races, European, African, and Native American, often with dark hair and skin and blue eyes. Unfortunately, they were also the subject of racism and suspicion. Sarra escapes a dangerous situation and ends up with an unlikely protector, Rand Champlain, a man from one of Charleston’s oldest families who is in the area to study the native flora and fauna.
Jen is thoroughly drawn in to the story, and she recognizes similarities in style and vocabulary to a famous author who is now a bit of a recluse. Should she risk her reputation at Vida House to follow this trail? Could she even get through to the suspected author to talk? He now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains from which Jen herself escaped poverty, ignorance, and an almost cult-like authoritarian religious group. She had planned never to return there: can she face her past for the sake of this story?
All breath in evr’thing been given by Father God, Granddaughter…Not a one he ain’t mindful a. All lives be mattersome to him. Not a one oughtn’t be mattersome to us, same way.
Just a building, created by men, filled with bits of God’s Word torn from context and recombined like the pieces of a ransom note.
The truth was, I yearned, in a soul-deep way, to be Sarra. To ‘feel’ that God was so very close, so very concerned with my particular life, so very ready to protect and to love. Always nearby. Always listening. Always leading.
No matter how many wrong choices we’ve made in the past, we can always decide to make the right ones today. The past need not determine one moment of the future.
I loved this book: Jen’s progression, the search for the mysteries involving the manuscript, the story within the story of Rand and Sarra, the setting of both a busy NY publishing house and then the Blue Ridge mountain area. Sarra and Rand’s story alternates between the two of them, and I thought Lisa showed great skill writing in their different voices as well as Jen’s – a modern city girl, a backwoods mixed race mountain girl, and a turn-of-the-century Southern aristocrat.
My only very small complaints are, 1), that a lot got wrapped up super-quickly at the end. I had thought, starting into the epilogue, that the story was heading toward a sequel since there was no way everything could be tied up in the last few pages, but it was. And, 2), one of the biggest mysteries was left a mystery, and that was something of a let-down. But those are small enough as to be almost inconsequential.
Otherwise, I enjoyed it immensely. A 9 out of 10.