Difficult, Ordinary, and Everything in Between {Book Club}

Difficult, Ordinary, and Everything in Between {Book Club}

“Scars remind us of both pain and mercy.”

Owen’s words to his daughter Phebe Ann become the comforting message she can pass along to her own daughter in hard times. As we finish up the last section of The Voice of Melody, we see the ways these words have been true in Owen’s life as well as Annie’s.

I can’t imagine what it was like for Owen to return that last time in 1840, as we read about at the start of chapter thirteen. He has lost two wives to childbirth complications and one to infidelity. His daughter married while he was away, life has continued to move on, and I imagine his heart was torn between the pull of the sea and his love for his family.

Owen had to grow on me, but as I read through these last chapters I think I sensed a bit more deeply the tension he felt. We feel it too, don’t we? Aging parents in our passport country and the spiritual and physical darkness around us. The education needs of our children, the wear and tear on our bodies because of extreme heat or cold. Calling, loyalty, obedience, thriving. All of these factors can weigh heavy as we try to find balance and love God and follow Him.

I also think my compassion grew along with Annie as she learned more about what happened to her father when the whale attack destroyed his ship. Her understanding of those experiences gave her insight as she watched Owen’s health deteriorate and his need for financial and provisional security grow. Our experiences mark us, in profound and also mundane ways.

As you reflect on these final chapters of The Voice of Melody, what is lingering in your heart and mind? Do you have a favorite character in the book? Or a favorite scene? I’d love to know what you thought about the book overall!

I also want to leave you with a few final thoughts from Kaylene, about her hope for the book.

I hope that my readers will be able to experience the life, emotions, and thoughts of my characters in a very personal way. That is why I chose to write it in first person present tense voice. Someone asked me, while critiquing my draft, what the point of the story was and why I wasn’t including more intense action, angst, and drama to make my readers stay engaged. I just thought, “Real life can be enough of a struggle and contain enough drama for most people…do they really need any more?” But such has our fast and furious entertainment culture become for us in the modern age…  So, I hope that my readers will find peace in the sweet moments of the story, relatable connection and healing in the harder moments, and hope in the overcoming moments.

I also hope that readers will gain a brief education about a part of American history most people know so little about today, and I hope to clear up misconceptions and historical inaccuracies set forth in such sources as the inspiring movie I watched.

Finally, I hope that I have given some amazing women from history an accurate representation as I aimed to let them “speak” to us in our time and space. And, through that, I hope readers will see that some elements of faith and family are timeless and still 100% applicable for us today. I hope God’s heart will touch the heart of my readers through this book.

Kaylene, thank you for taking the time to interact with us as we read The Voice of Melody this month! And thank you to each one who has commented and shared your thoughts. I love getting to read in community with you!

In February we will be reading Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman. Here’s a short summary of the book:

Gladys Aylward left her home in England to answer God’s call to take the message of the gospel to China. With the Sino-Japanese War waging around her, she struggled to bring the basics of life and the fullness of God to orphaned children. Time after time, God triumphed over impossible situations, and drew people to Himself. The Little Woman tells the story of one woman’s determination to serve God at any cost. With God all things are possible! (From Amazon)

Here’s the schedule for Gladys Aylward:

February 2: Ch 1-4

February 9: Ch 5-9

February 16: Ch 10-13

February 23: Ch 14-18

Photo by Guan gen on Unsplash

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  1. Bayta Schwarz January 26, 2021

    Gosh I really couldn’t believe it when Annie lost her father and her husband essentially at the same time! Heartbreaking! She experienced so much loss in her life… I wasn’t surprised that the trauma of that one journey in particular eventually caught up with Owen. How do you even begin to process experiences like that?! Obviously he did have nightmares and migraines all along but maybe once the responsibility of having to provide for a family was no longer there, the emotional impact hit him even harder?
    I have to confess that I did get a little confused towards the end – too many Lydias and Addalines for my poor brain 😉
    I loved the book and the journey it took us on! I learned a lot about a very different world but there was also a lot connecting it to current situations – of families being separated through work or study, of living through danger and loss, of taking the next step by faith and experiencing God’s strength and help in that.
    Whoever chose this book – thank you!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 27, 2021

      I know the practice of keeping the same names in the family was pretty common. There are four women with the name Minnie in one branch of my family- all in the same generation. 🙂 Two of them married brothers who had the same last name as them (Miller) and so it gets very confusing which Minnie Miller you are talking about!

      Sometimes it seems like it is when we are safe that our bodies and minds can actually process a trauma. It’s not just about getting someone out of a bad situation- although that is important- but then being with them and helping them process. We know so much more about that type of thing today but I also feel like we are still really learning.

      1. Bayta Schwarz January 27, 2021

        Oh my – that would be confusing!
        Yes, so thankful for all the progress that has been made in caring for people who experienced trauma but still a long way to go!

        1. Kaylene Powell January 28, 2021

          Thanks for all these good comments and reflections!

          The name game while doing research for this book was even more confusing because there were so many shared and common last names as well as first names on the Island in this period and before/after it. I went back to check genealogy listings to try and keep everyone straight and might have to click through a list of 6 or 8 men or women who had the same name combination to find records of one I was looking for. I realized I could have changed names of more characters than I did, but I chose instead to let nearly all of them keep their true names and just try to use cues to help readers follow along. As I think I noted at the end, there were some historical characters that I did cut out in part for that reason — too many more repeated names to keep track of, even if I had included a family tree diagram. Ironically, I have no proof historically that Phebe Ann was every called Annie or by any other nickname. That was my own choice as the author. But from the time I started drafting until now, I still can’t think of her any other way! My liberty taken…

          Those thoughts about Owen’s stress finally catching up with him later and his challenges in processing are indeed good ones. A judge did officially label him as insane shortly before his death — and I think we can understand how that developed. HIs hoarding of food in the attic in those later years has also been historically documented. I smile sadly as I type this and think about things I am now dealing with physically, mentally, and emotionally that are in part tied harsh circumstances and painful experiences of my own past. Sometimes, later in life, great hardships can have a way of catching up with us or hitting us differently. Owen’s family and the families of the other survivors of the Essex knew that well.

          And about Annie loosing them both so close together — yes. I was shocked when I was researching and checked the dates then rechecked them half a dozen more times…could really be right? So close together, though there was a reasonable age gap between them? What a double blow for her. And yet she lived on for many more years. And she thrived, as far as I know. And she never remarried. God was sure gracious to support her, I believe. But I also believe she must have been a woman with an extraordinary spirit.

  2. Amanda February 1, 2021

    This was such an amazing book to read! I had an unusually busy month, so I wasn’t able to participate in the discussion. The most heart wrenching component of this book for me was the patchy communication via letters. To never know if someone would receive news of the birth of a child or an unfaithful spouse. Yikes! Yet people came together to support one another and survive. I feel like now we have more communication via Zoom, social media, etc, but way less community. We are left to fight hard battles alone with a false sense of support and security. Thank you for a great read! I hope to hop on the conversation for the next book.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann February 2, 2021

      Amanda, I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! I love sending letters these days, but it is also usually not my primary communication tool. Even when I was living overseas I knew that I could send an email or a text message or even call if I needed to get news quickly. I can’t imagine having something so important to say and not knowing if it would ever be received! What you said about community though is so interesting. I do wonder if for all the amazing tools we have, we actually rely less on the people directly around us. I would imagine this is more of a western problem though. Lots to think about! 🙂

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