The Outsider

Written by Ann H. Gabhart
Review by Mary K. Bird-Guilliams

This is a gentle read for those who like nondogmatic religious themes. The heyday of the Shakers is examined thoughtfully, and descriptions of their interesting rituals and daily lives are compelling. Mainstream readers may well enjoy the War of 1812 setting in early American history from this unusual perspective. Going Shaker seems to have served a similar function to a medieval abbey or monastery: a refuge from strife, and guaranteed protection, food, and shelter in exchange for a willingness to work and obedience to the precepts of the sect. Obviously the strict celibacy suited some and not others, and upon a young person’s maturity, they might be tempted to change their minds.

Gabrielle, brought into the Shakers with her mother after hearing (erroneously, it turns out) of her father’s death, has grown up thinking herself a true member of the order. When a fire breaks out, a young outsider doctor arrives to heal the injured, and Gabrielle begins to question the Shaker ideas. Meanwhile the doctor, Brice Scott, follows his calling to the war and barely survives the River Raisin Massacre. It takes the war, plus deaths of grief and an inability to adjust to Shaker ways, before Gabrielle can make up her mind where her heart lies. Readers will not be surprised by the ending, but the fair and fascinating descriptions of Shaker and frontier warfare will make it worthwhile.