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The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart
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The Visionist (2014)

by Rachel Urquhart

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Growing up in Rensselaer County in upstate New York, references to the Shakers were everywhere. I was fascinated by this culture that was so familiar, and yet entirely foreign. So I was thrilled to find this book, but unfortunately half-way through it became clear why I had found it with the bargain books. A real missed opportunity. ( )
  sdunford | Aug 3, 2017 |
Polly Kimball has had a rough life on the family farm. Her drunken father sexually molests her, beats and belittles her mother, and tried to drown her baby brother in a bucket, leaving him brain damaged. When she hears him mumbling about a plan to be rid of his family and sell off the farm, she knows that she has to do something to get them to safety. When her father rolls home in a drunken stupor and flops into bed, Polly hitches up the horse and cart, bundles he mother and brother into it, and goes into the house for one last look at the man who has tormented them all. Later she says that she wanted to see him asleep, vulnerable, weak, and that she dropped the oil lamp she was holding by accident when he turned towards her. The last thing she remembers seeing as they drove off is the house in flames and her father, afire, stumbling into the yards.

With no money and no other recourse, Polly's mother May decides it would be best to leave her two children in a nearby Shaker settlement, expecting that they will become members and stay there for life. When Polly gets caught up in antics of a Shaker meeting, many of the residents believe that she is a Visionist, sent by Mother Ann to give them words of wisdom. Many, especially her roommate Sister Charity, believe that her arrival is a blessing, but Elder Sister Agnes is less sure . . .

Meanwhile, several lawyers and businessmen and a fire inspector are looking for the Kimballs, hoping to buy or take by default the homestead and land that originally belonged to May's father.

I was initially drawn into this novel and hoped that it would provide insights into the Shaker community, but I really didn't learn much that I didn't already know. Polly's story is a sad one; she is a young girl who has had to learn how to survive. The wrangling over the Kimball property was not a direction that I expected the book to take, and I don't really think it was the best option. Urquhart tells the tale in sections alternating between three narrators: Polly, Sister Charity, and Simon, the fire inspector. ( )
  Cariola | Jun 21, 2017 |
" I really enjoyed Urquhart's view of the Shakers-not idealistic but also not entirely cynical"
read more: http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot.gr/2016/04/the-visionist-rachel-urquhart.html ( )
  mongoosenamedt | May 7, 2016 |
“The Visionist,” set in New England in the 1840’s, introduces readers to Shaker life. Abandoned as a baby, the strict life of a Shaker is the only life Sister Charity has ever known. Trying to please her spiritual leader “Mother Ann,” her benefactress Elder Sister Agnes, and the other members of the society leave Sister Charity feeling doomed to perdition because of her unworthiness.

Polly Kimball, her brother Ben, and mother May suffered for years under the brutal hands of her father Silas. When a fire Polly accidentally set helped them flee, May leaves them at a nearby Shaker community and disappears. In her sadness Polly has a vision, which the community believes comes from their beloved Mother Ann. Elder Sister Agnes is suspicious of Polly’s “vision” and wonders about her past, while Simon Pryor, fire inspector, has questions of his own.

As the girls’ friendship grows, the fear that Charity will find out everything about her is built on lies weighs heavily on Polly’s mind. Soon the struggle between right and wrong will consume both girls, as each attempt to figure out their role in the community.

Urquhart’s well researched portrayal of Shaker life in the 1840’s, as well as descriptions of clothing and customs of the time, does much to make “The Visionist” realistic. I would have preferred May telling her own story of how she got tangled up with Silas, and then explaining what she did to survive after dropping off Ben and Polly at the Shaker community. Since I only got dribs and drabs of her story, I gave it 3 stars instead of 4.

Recommended for Adults.

Blog review link: https://shouldireaditornot.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/the-visionist-rachel-urquhart/ ( )
  sunshinealma | Apr 10, 2016 |
The Visionist is set in the City of Hope, a Shaker community in Massachusetts in 1842. Fifteen-year old Polly and her brother are hidden in the City of Hope by their mother after a fire destroyed their farm and killed their father. While her brother Benjamin accepts their new situation, Polly struggles to adjust to the different way of life, inio part because of the secrets she carries with her. While being viewed with suspicion at first, she is soon hailed as a "visionist", which brings even more scrutiny and pressure to conform. However, Polly forms a friendship with the young sister Charity, who has never lived in the outside world.

The story is told from three perspectives, Polly's, Sister Charity's and Simon Pryor, an investigator and local fire inspector. What I really enjoyed about this book was that the author managed to give completely different and distinct voices to all three narrators. They were very real, very believable and added small bits of information in equal measure. The writing was beautiful, engaging and suspenseful. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen in the end. The ending itself didn't really move me - not that I have a better suggestion - but not everyone's motivation made sense for me and perhaps I thought it was all a bit to neat, otherwise I would have rated it higher. Still, it was a very enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to reading the author's next book. ( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
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It is not uncommon, when one is young, to think that life is simple.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316228117, Hardcover)

An enthralling debut novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge--but perhaps not--in an 1840s Shaker community.

In this exquisite, transporting debut, 15-year-old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm, killing her abusive father. She and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called The City of Hope. It is the Era of Manifestations, when young girls in Shaker enclaves all across the Northeast are experiencing extraordinary mystical visions, earning them the honorific of "Visionist" and bringing renown to their settlements.

The City of Hope has not yet been blessed with a Visionist, but that changes when Polly arrives and is unexpectedly exalted. As she struggles to keep her dark secrets concealed in the face of increasing scrutiny, Polly finds herself in a life-changing friendship with a young Shaker sister named Charity, a girl who will stake everything--including her faith--on Polly's honesty and purity.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:03 -0400)

An enthralling debut novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge--but perhaps not--in an 1840s Shaker community. In this exquisite, transporting debut, 15-year-old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm, killing her abusive father. She and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called The City of Hope. It is the Era of Manifestations, when young girls in Shaker enclaves all across the Northeast are experiencing extraordinary mystical visions, earning them the honorific of "Visionist" and bringing renown to their settlements. The City of Hope has not yet been blessed with a Visionist, but that changes when Polly arrives and is unexpectedly exalted. As she struggles to keep her dark secrets concealed in the face of increasing scrutiny, Polly finds herself in a life-changing friendship with a young Shaker sister named Charity, a girl who will stake everything--including her faith--on Polly's honesty and purity.… (more)

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