Review first published on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-visionist.html
Polly Kimball is a fifteen year old growing up in the 1800s in Massachusetts. She lives on a farm with her mother, her younger brother, and her abusive father. They barely scrape by, and Polly lives in constant fear of and constant anger against her father. One day, things come to a head, and Polly sets fire to the family farm, killing her father. She escapes with her mother and brother.
It is then that the mother May seems to awaken from years of abuse. She brings Polly and her brother to a Shaker community and leaves them there for she thinks that they will be cared for in way that she is unable to. The community is one of strict rules and very certain ways.
This, however, is also a time in which certain Shaker communities have received mystical visions. Polly seems to be blessed with these visions at the City of Hope, and as such, gains prominence in the community. She has told no one of her past and struggles with that secret. Sister Charity, an orphan raised in the community since infancy, becomes Polly's friend. Polly's story becomes one you read often - abuse and its terrible consequences.
Around Polly's story are other stories. Charity faces her own struggles to surrender to the rules of the community and to not let emotions get in the way of her service and her obedience to the rules. Simon Pryor is the man investigating the fire at the Kimball farm, but has his own history. I don't see how the details of his story truly contribute to the book. I would rather have known more about the other characters.
The one story that I feel is missing from the book is May's story. She is perhaps the most interesting character in the book, but not developed at all. Here is a young woman who falls into a bad marriage. She puts up with abuse for years and allows her children to be abused. Once she escapes, she also becomes the force to attempt to save her children. I wish the author had explored her story more.
An interesting tale, but one that explores certain story lines too much and leaves other more interesting ones undeveloped.
*** Reviewed for the GoodReads First Reads program ***