Christmas Bells

Written by Jennifer Chiaverini
Review by Susan Higginbotham

In 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, still reeling from a personal tragedy and living amid the national tragedy of the Civil War, wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which later became a beloved Christmas carol. In this novel, Jennifer Chiaverini gives us the story behind the poem.

Paralleling Longfellow’s story is a contemporary-set one featuring several Bostonians, all facing Christmas with trouble in their hearts. These include Sophia, a young music teacher who has just been informed her job will be eliminated due to budget cuts; Lucas, who longs to take his friendship with Sophia to a higher level; Charlotte, whose hopes of winning a writing competition are dashed when she is falsely accused by a teacher of plagiarism; and Laurie, who is finding it harder and harder to keep a distressing secret from her children. Interconnected with each other, all will find that the Longfellow poem speaks to them in some way.

Both the historical and contemporary stories are moving, with vivid and sympathetic characters, and they mesh together smoothly and naturally. As this is a novel intended for the Christmas market, the resolutions to the stories won’t surprise anyone, but getting there is a pleasure.