Emma’s Gift

Written by Leisha Kelly
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Kelly’s first book and its sequel (Julia’s Hope and Emma’s Gift) tell of the struggles of the Wortham family in the Great Depression. When Sam loses his job in Pennsylvania, they hitchhike to Illinois to find work. But they become stranded in a small town short of their goal, when they learn the promised job is not forthcoming after all.

Utterly destitute and with a storm approaching, they take shelter in a seemingly abandoned house. Julia is determined to remain there instead of moving on. They later discover the house’s owner is still alive. Emma Graham is an elderly widow who lost a leg and cannot live alone. She strikes a bargain with the Worthams: if they take her to live with them, they can stay on the farm.

Emma becomes like a grandmother to Robert and Sarah, and all the Worthams come to love her. But conflict arises when suspicious neighbors think the Worthams are taking advantage of Emma. And Albert, her nephew from Chicago, is alarmed when Emma expresses a wish to disinherit him and leave the farm to the Worthams.

These are quiet books, concerned with domestic matters, such as the city-bred Worthams learning to run a farm, how people “made do” during the Depression when no one had much cash, and how best to help a grieving neighbor family. The characters are well-rounded. Kelly believably portrays the many varieties of grief that are possible in a large family after a death.

The inspirational element is strong in these novels. Sam and Julia pray about whether they are doing the right thing for their family. Emma persuades them to take her to church, where they fear the congregation will reject them as opportunistic strangers. And two tragic deaths on the same day in the second book cause many characters to question their faith. Christian fiction fans will enjoy both books.