Charis in the World of Wonders: A Novel Set in Puritan New England

Written by Marly Youmans
Review by Bryan Dumas

As an Indian raid threatens young Charis’ household in Falmouth, Massachusetts (now Maine), her mother sends Charis and her young sister Mary to hid in a secret place. Injured on the way, Mary dies in the night, and Charis soon learns that she’s the sole survivor of the attack, save the family horse, Hortus. Together, Charis and Hortus make a slow, dangerous trek south toward Boston. In Haverhill, she finds shelter with the Saltonstall family who take her in as one of their own. Determined to forge her own way, Charis takes a job sewing for Goody Holt, a bitter widow, and her two daughters—Lizzie and Bel—in the village of Andover. Soon, Charis falls in love with Jotham, the village silversmith, for whom Lizzie has desires, and a friendship with Bel blossoms. Jotham and Charis marry, but soon she is caught in a snare of witchcraft hysteria and friendships dissolve.

Youmans writes in a very poetic style, and at times it interferes with the narrative. However, she has created a clever Cinderella story (“When she surveyed me, she said aloud, ‘You have cinders in your hair!’”) set during the Puritan witch hunts. Charis is a Puritan Job, and Charis in the World of Wonders is a story of grace and forgiveness in the face of animosity and fear. Though heavy doses of inspirational messages are peppered throughout this first-person narrative, this is still a charming literary work that envelops the reader in the chaotic frontier life of Puritan Massachusetts.