The Solace of Water
Author: Elizabeth Byler Younts
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2018)
It's April 1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. It has been a month since Delilah Evans buried her 4-year-old son. She wears her grief like a cloak. The entire family is grieving, but Delilah thinks she deserves to grieve more than the rest. She can hardly look at her 15-year-old daughter, Sparrow. She blames her for the death of her son. She should have been watching him. Malachi Evans has decided his family needs a change. He grew up in Sinking Creek, Pennsylvania. An old friend asks him to come and take the job as pastor of the church. Delilah doesn't like the idea of being so far from the grave of her boy, but is looking forward to starting over somewhere new. As they drive into the town, Malachi points out that there are no signs here saying "Whites Only" or "Colored Only". Delilah can't imagine what it would be like to use the same door or the same bathroom as the white folks. Maybe things will be better here.
At their new home, the Evans' closest neighbor is an Amish family, John and Emma Mullet and their teenage son, Johnny. The lot had fallen to John Mullet to be head deacon of their church. However, John and Emma have their own secrets. John is a drunk and has been using the communion wine to support his dependency. Emma knows his secret. In fact, she helps him by slipping some alcohol in his coffee cup when they have company so John can get through the meeting. She knows it is wrong, but she loves her husband and wants to help him do the important work that he does. Emma has her own secret as well. She has been taking herbs for years to prevent her from becoming pregnant.
Delilah and Emma come from such different worlds. Will they be able to overcome their differences and become friends?
This novel is beautifully written. It is not an easy read however. The story deals with several weighty issues. The main theme is grief and how people deal with it in different and often destructive ways. Delilah is holding tightly to her grief. She is no longer the person she used to be, but is cold and angry especially to those she loves the most. She can't forgive her daughter, Sparrow. She blames her for the death of her son because she was supposed to be watching her brothers, but had left them and gone further into the woods with a boy. Sparrow feels her mom's unforgiveness every day. On top of the grief of losing her brother, she feels the weight of being unwanted by her mother. She just wants to pain to go away. Soon she begins hurting herself as a way to relieve some of the pain.
Emma lost a daughter through still birth. It was then that she started taking the herbs to prevent pregnancy. She couldn't bear the thought of losing another child. And, after John started drinking, she didn't feel he would be a good father to another child. Emma is grieving her daughter, but also the life that she could have had. She feels she is drowning in secrets and sin.
The chapters alternate between Delilah and Emma and sometimes Sparrow. It was easy to follow and gave the reader good insight into the characters. The time in history adds another aspect to the story. It was interesting to see how the issue of segregation was handled in two different parts of the country. The novel ends in hope, but takes a long time to get there. If you are looking for an uplifting read, this is not the book for you.