When Silence Sings

Written by Sarah Loudin Thomas
Review by Susan Higginbotham

For decades, the feud between the Harpe and the McLean families in the coal-mining region of West Virginia has simmered, taking fire yet again in 1930 when a McLean shoots a Harpe. To Serepta McLean, the gunman’s mother, the shooting is a tiresome distraction from her money-making efforts and an irksome reminder of the inadequacies of her two sons. To Colman Harpe, a railroad man with a gift for hearing, the act threatens to upend his determination to stay clear of the feud and to focus on his true vocation: spreading the word of God. Then another tragedy upends Serepta’s life, while Colman’s preaching—and his encounter with the pale-skinned herbalist Ivy Gordon—draws him into McLean territory.

When Silence Sings vividly evokes its mountain setting, but its main strength is its complex characters, especially Serepta, a tough-minded, unconventional woman who nonetheless has a streak of sympathy for misfits, outcasts, and the young and helpless. Colman is sympathetic and likeable, without being too saintly. And while the female character with a knowledge of herbs and a gift for healing is a recurrent one in historical fiction, and a rather tiresome one, Ivy is more interesting than most. With an excellent supporting cast and a fast-moving plot, this novel should be enjoyed by readers of both Christian and secular historical fiction.