Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review: Mercy House by Alena Dillon (audio)

Title: Mercy House
Author: Alena Dillon
Narrator: Dawn Harvey, Catherine Ho, Scarlette Hayes, Eboni Flowers, Caitlin Kelly, Bahni Turpin
Published: February 2020, Harper Audio / William Morrow Paperbacks
Length: 9 hours 35 minutes / 384 pages
Source: Audio - ALC via Libro.fm / Print - Paperback from Publisher via TLC Booktours 

A powerful debut novel of a refuge in Brooklyn for women in trouble—and the one woman who will risk all to protect them.
In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn stands a century-old row house presided over by renegade, silver-haired Sister Evelyn. Gruff and indomitable on the surface, warm and wry underneath, Evelyn and her fellow sisters makes Mercy House a safe haven for the abused and abandoned.

Women like Lucia, who arrives in the dead of night; Mei-Li, the Chinese and Russian house veteran; Desiree, a loud and proud prostitute; Esther, a Haitian immigrant and aspiring collegiate; and Katrina, knitter of lumpy scarves… all of them know what it’s like to be broken by men.

Little daunts Evelyn, until she receives word that Bishop Robert Hawkins is coming to investigate Mercy House and the nuns, whose secret efforts to help the women in ways forbidden by the Church may be uncovered. But Evelyn has secrets too, dark enough to threaten everything she has built.

Evelyn will do anything to protect Mercy House and the vibrant, diverse women it serves—confront gang members, challenge her beliefs, even face her past. As she fights to defend all that she loves, she discovers the extraordinary power of mercy and the grace it grants, not just to those who receive it, but to those strong enough to bestow it.

My thoughts: I love reading debut novels but even more so, I love reading thought-provoking books and this one is that and a whole lot more. It's controversial to be sure, but probably not in the way you might be thinking, so don't be too quick to pass this one by.

The house on Chauncy Street with the angel knocker is known as a refuge for women who have been abused or abandoned. The nuns who run it are unconventional to say the least, but they will help you get back on your feet. We get the current women's stories told to us in their own words and nothing is held back...it's brutal and raw, and at times uncomfortable. But hearing their stories is necessary to understand what brings them there and once you do hear them, you will understand just how important Mercy House is and as well as all the work these nuns do.

The rest of the story is narrated by Sister Evelyn and she is full of compassion, yet strong and ever so resilient. She is a fighter and willing to stand up for those who need help.  The story moves back and forth in time as we get the full story of Evelyn's life - the reason she became a nun and ultimately what secret she is hiding. 

This is the type of book that stirs up a lot of emotions, and it brings up many questions about the issues facing the Catholic Church (just look at current news) but what it doesn't do is question faith or even God. It's not a religious book per say, but rather a look at what is right and what is wrong. This book evoked such a strong response in me - it angered me, but there were times I also laughed and cried. Books like this make for great reading and are definitely ones that stay with you long after you finish reading them. They also make for great discussions.

Life as a nun is not always an easy one but no one deserves what happened to Evelyn, whether this is fiction or not. It's sad that women in the Catholic Church are not seen as equal to men but unfortunately that is not an issue isolated just to the Catholic Church.  There is a great interview in the back of the book that Alena conducted with Sister Suzanne Franck from St. Joseph's College on Long Island that reflects on Sister Suzanne's forty-year commitment to religious life. Interesting tidbit - I actually know Sister Suzanne!

Alena Dillon has a gifted way of telling a story and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for what comes next from her.

Audio thoughts: This was an amazing audiobook and I loved that there were different narrators for the different women. I enjoyed listening to this book, as difficult as it was to listen to at times. It was one of those books that as soon as I started listening to it, I had a hard time stopping, I was so immersed in the story. These narrators really brought the story to life.


1 comment

  1. The second review I am reading this morning of this rather sad book. So much was harsh and hidden from view in these institutions.


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