Book Review of Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs
I have been perusing my binder full of book reviews, which I’ve been writing for the past 20 years or so. I think I started writing them because when I find a particularly inspiring, thought-provoking, well-written book, I can’t bear to lose the memories of the experience. I love to revisit books, especially novels, the way I love to re-live moments in my life, which is why I have a ridiculous amount of journals, scrapbooks and photo albums. Here’s a book from ten years ago:
What made me pick up this book was the message on the back cover, which asked a question: Could she learn to live without love for the rest of her life? I wanted to know how this book resolved that question, and I especially wanted to know how it resolved it from a Christian viewpoint.
This is a historical novel based on a story in the book of Genesis in the Bible. It is not set in Bible times and places, however; it is set in eighteenth-century Scotland, and is filled with customs and culture from that time. What a brilliant idea!
I have to admit, it was hard for me to stick with for the first ten or so chapters, because it moved so slowly. In historical novels, I like to learn a little about the setting, customs, history, landscape, plants, herbs and clothing, but just a little. I care about the characters, what they think, how they base their decisions, what motivates them and what happens to them, and don’t like to be distracted from the characters for long. Please, especially don’t make me wade through strange italicized words and dialects. At the end I discovered a glossary of Scottish word meanings that I probably would have referred to many times had I known it was there. But when I couldn’t figure out what an italicized word meant from the context, it frequently interrupted the flow of the story.
But on to the good stuff.
The beginning of the story centers around a young man named Jamie (playing the Jacob part of the story of Jacob and Esau), and his ambitious, conniving mother (playing the part of Rebekah exactly as in scripture). She orchestrates her son’s deception in order to obtain his father’s blessing (and with it, his favor, inheritance, and launch for success in life). Jamie has to flee from the wrath of his duped brother, so he goes to his uncle’s place, traveling several days and getting robbed more than once, seeking a wife, either Rose or Leana (Rebecca and Leah in the original story).
From there on, it was a gripping story, full of deep emotion and suspense. Jamie loves Rose, a vivacious, passionate, strikingly beautiful dark-haired, blue-eyed girl. Unfortunately for him, her reaction to his attention is flirtatious and self-serving, but not heartfelt. However, Rose’s older sister Leana, opposite her sister in disposition and bland in her looks, loves Jamie intensely.
Liz Curtis Higgs expertly developed every character, and has a keen insight into the human weaknesses and motivations of both men and women. The way Jamie is tricked into marrying Leana was surprisingly believable, as was the entire plot in this intelligent novel. But the book ends in the middle of the story, so I quickly reserved the sequel at the library. (This ended up being a trilogy with Fair is the Rose, and Whence Came a Prince. All of them are bestsellers, and the last one a Christy Award winner.)
Did I receive satisfactory answers to my own questions? Absolutely. I gained insight both from the text and from scriptures quoted throughout the novel. And, as happens often when I read a well-written Christian novel, I believe God used it to build my faith and to know Him better. Sometimes when we pray that our pain—a “thorn in the flesh”—will be removed from our lives, God says, “My grace is enough for you.” Or, “Trust me, I love you dearly and am going through this with you, but I’m leaving the pain there for a while. It will change you, heal your heart, and transform your life.” And then, even though at first we can’t imagine how we could ever bear the pain, in time we find grace and healing in abundance, just as promised.
Thorn in My Heart was published in 2003 by Waterbrook Press, and the entire trilogy is not only available online, it is still available at my public library, so it’s probably at yours, too.