Christy (by Catherine Marshall)

Over the years I’ve read a few of Catherine Marshall’s books, mainly non-fiction. I’ve picked them up in charity shops, and for some reason I don’t think I’d ever read this one before. I read ‘Julie’, one of her historical novels a few months ago and enjoyed it very much, so although the book ‘Christy’ looked equally daunting, with small print and over 400 pages, I started it about ten days ago and enjoyed it very much.

This is, again, historical fiction; the author claimed that it’s about 75% biographical, 25% fiction. Christy, nineteen years old and idealistic, is based on Catherine Marshall’s mother and many of the anecdotes are based on her experiences as a young teacher. The location, however, and many of the adults concerned are fictional; the whole makes a moving and very well-written novel.

We meet Christy as she sets out for Cutters’ Gap, a remote village populated by people who originated from the Scottish Highlands. Christy has been inspired by a speaker at her church to become a teacher to deprived children, and her parents reluctantly support her in this, although she has very little idea what she is letting herself in for.

The journey is arduous, and Christy is thrown into a lifestyle that seems very basic and primitive to her. At first she can’t bear the smell of unwashed children, and has little idea how to handle them. Gradually she learns to love them for themselves, aided by the delightful Miss Alice, an older Quaker woman. Christy gradually gets to know David, the other teacher at the mission house, and also makes friends among the local women….

The novel is educational without being overtly so; it gives an excellent picture of the kind of life that some people were living and the scourges of poverty, lack of sanitation and illiteracy. It’s Christian in theme, yet without being preachy; Christy and David both have a great deal to learn about what their faith means to them, and what it means in practice amongst these often unlovable people.

There are parts which are shocking; Marshall does not hide some of the horrors of the past, and the present when disease strikes. Disasters and bereavements were common; yet still tragedies to the people concerned. They don’t complain about their lot, nor do they expect anything that they don’t already have; it’s quite a humbling story in that sense; people today have so much, yet continually want more.

The characters and situations will remain with me for a while, I’m sure; it was a shock to turn the last page and realise that the story had come to an end, and that there’s no sequel since the romance - and the young man concerned - are figments of the author’s imagination.

Highly recommended for older teens as well as adults.

(Note that as well as the original full-length novel, there are several shorter books about Christy, written more recently and intended for younger teens. The original novel is not currently in print but can often be found second-hand)

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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