In 1862 fourteen-year-old Rosemary Elizabeth Godfrey, her brother Isaac, and baby sister Anne are taken by their mother to the Shaker village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, to escape their alcoholic father’s violent rages. What Rosemary and her siblings do not know at first is that their mother is leaving them at Pleasant Hill alone. While Isaac and Baby Anne adjust to Shaker life without too much difficulty, Rosemary, now called Sister Bess, has more trouble being perfect. She tries, but imperfections keep creeping into her life. She enjoys the pure Shaker food and clean, healthy surroundings, but she also has many questions. For example, she doesn’t understand why she should always start walking with the right foot or why she isn’t allowed to have a cat for a pet. She also doesn’t understand why her mother is not coming back.
As the Civil War rages around them, the community of Pleasant Hill manages to stay neutral and mostly uninvolved, except for the occasional visit by soldiers from both sides of the conflict. When the soldiers do come, the Shakers make them feel welcome. They feed the men and their horses then allow them to rest before going on. As Sister Bess continues to learn about the Shaker community, she comes to the realization that everyone has imperfections, even Shakers, and their imperfections help shape who they are.
Lynda Durant’s coming-of-age novel is well researched. She shares details about everyday life in Pleasant Hill, giving the reader a close-up, nonjudgmental look at Shaker life while celebrating the value of differences. Ms. Durant includes interesting historical details as well, including a visit from John Hunt Morgan and his raiders to Pleasant Hill in 1862.