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Karen Jewell
In the Garden of Sorrows
Karen Jewell, author
The novel is a portrait of a woman, Isabel Fuller, grieving the loss of her son in World War I and harboring anger at her husband, who encouraged him to enlist. She agrees to allow a Pentacostal revival in the pecan grove on her farm, and when a young preacher arrives for the revival, his sympathetic attention to her leads to an affair that threatens her marriage.


Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.50 out of 10


Plot/Idea: In the Garden of Sorrows centers on the decline of Isabel’s marriage after the death of her son. Significant events occur (the introduction of Reverend Kane in particular), but these events surround and contextualize this main theme in a clearly intentional manner. Jewell sparks many questions for readers, some of which are not definitively answered, but the plot is engaging and complex.

Prose: Dialogue flows naturally throughout, and Jewell's prose sets scenes with ease. There are multiple intimate scenes within the text, and in these cases, the level of detail has more in common with romance novels than general fiction.

Originality: In the Garden of Sorrows takes on issues that are more typically addressed in novels set in the present day: the loss of a child, the decline of a marriage, and sexual assault. By setting these life events within the context of the 1920s, the novel acknowledges that these issues occur throughout time without being dogmatic about it—the characters simply deal with the issues as they arise, and the novel bears witness.

Character/Execution: Main character Isabel is explored in full. We see her as wife, mother, neighbor, and lover throughout the course of the novel. Her gift of sight is treated as objective fact, rather than something extraordinary, and the conversations with her deceased mother and son also provide insight into her character. Other characters are given enough backstory to firmly root them within their scenes.

Date Submitted: May 31, 2023

Set shortly after the end of World War I in a small farming community, In the Garden of Sorrows follows Isabel Fuller as she struggles to deal with the loss of her eldest son, Carl, during the war. The feeling that her husband Edward actively encouraged Carl to enlist, plus her own inability to reach Carl with her preternatural sight, leaves Isabel bereft and struggling with life. A Pentecostal revival on their land, led by the charismatic and attractive Micah Kane, forces Isabel out of the fugue of her grief, but puts her marriage in danger. As she finds herself “terrified that what she was about to do would change her life forever, but unable to stop,” Isabel must decide if her feelings for Micah are real or just a way for her process and outpour the grief to someone removed from her loss.

Many historical novels about the Great Wars focus on surviving the wars themselves. In her debut, Jewell takes the lesser-known path of examining how a person copes with the loss of a loved one after the war is over, as everyday life resumes something like normalcy, Jewell shows how difficult it is for Isabel to process her grief. Kane, as a newcomer to the community, allows her to do so, but their relationship creates new conflict. Meanwhile, a compelling subplot involving the local Piggott family, whose daughter Caroline becomes close with Isabel while facing a devastating loss of her own, stands as a jolting reminder that horror and danger aren’t limited to the theater of war.

Jewell’s prose is assured and inviting, laying bare the hearts of these characters and conjuring a convincingly detailed past and its beliefs and revivals, reminding us that once a dime bought a Hershey Bar and a Coca-Cola, all while maintaining a sense of narrative momentum. Powered by richly touching connections between Jewell's people, the novel pulses with feeling.

Takeaway: Stirring novel about a grieving mother, a charming reverend, and temptation.

Comparable Titles: Caroline Scott’s The Poppy Wife, Jennifer Robson’s After the War Is Over.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

In Jewell’s memorable debut, a clairvoyant and restless American woman grieves for her son who died in WWI and gains a new sense of life from an affair with a preacher. Isabel Fuller and her husband Edward are among the more prosperous farmers in their Southern community. Isabel wishes she had prevented their oldest son, Carl, from enlisting, as she sensed he would never come back. Amid caring for their three younger sons and household chores, the relationship between Isabel and Edward fractures. After the Fullers agree to let Pentecostal reverend Micah Kane hold his revival meetings on their land, Isabel feels a powerful and unexpected attraction to Micah, who not only reciprocates but also expresses sympathy for her grief and loneliness. The two embark on an affair. Much of the narrative involves Isabel processing her feelings about her attraction to Micah and concern about losing Edward forever. There’s also a tragic episode involving Caroline, a young orphan in the Fullers’ care, whose disappearance unexpectedly leads the Fullers to renew their bond. Jewell entices with her multidimensional characters, especially Isabel, a strong, complex woman seeking to overcome despair. The author is off to a promising start with this confident and dramatic family saga. (Self-published)