It was great to be able to go back to Bradbury and experience their little joys and frustrations and sorrows again. There are new characters and familiar characters have undergone growth and change, both physically and/or emotionally depending on the person. It felt a little like catching up with old friends.
I’m not going to get into a play-by-play review because the unfolding of the story is one of its charms. It reads easily, drawing you in, and, even with three young children at home and a busier than usual schedule, I finished it in under a week. It would be a perfect summer read, which is fitting since it mostly takes place over the course of a summer.
One of the new point of views we hear from in The Harvest Raise is from a pastor’s wife. House of Living Stones mostly deals with the layman’s life, The Choir Immortal with the intersection of the pastor’s life with the life of the laymen, and The Harvest Raise has a lot to do with the life of a pastor’s family. Fitting with the amazing characterization Katie has done of painting a picture of people you just almost feel like you already know, the trials of being in the pastor’s family bubble feel real.
To be honest, being a pastor’s kid myself, some of the scenes hit a little close to home and brought back memories for good or for bad. I have never read a more apt description of what she calls “church stress”, so for those who have lived in that bubble as a pastor, a pastor’s wife, or pastor’s kid find yourself ready to laugh and also sympathize with the ache.
One of the main themes is pride and the form that takes in different people. For two people pride causes them to publicly shoot off their mouths and then be publicly confronted with their faults. In one case the knowledge of and belief in the Gospel allows her to find humility and repent. It doesn’t mean that everything is fine or that she is free of sin, but there is a peace that follows. In the other case being confronted with her unkindness and pride causes her to dig in and reject apologies and confirms her feeling of being persecuted. She doesn’t feel any regret, but there is no peace, only anger, with a refusal to repent.
There are so many beautiful passages in this book of confessions to neighbors and friends and family and just as many statements of forgiveness. It does a Lutheran heart good to read such realistic situations that are dripping with solid theology.
Since I read and loved the first two books I can’t say for certain if this one could function as a standalone book, but the depiction of family life and a husband’s role - what it means to be the head of the wife - is wonderful. I highly recommend it to any young man (or woman) preparing or hoping for marriage. None of the marriages are perfect and without sin but in the goodness there is a picture of how a husband and wife should be, and in the trouble spots are a picture of how to show compassion, ask forgiveness, and give thanks for the good gift that has been given to you through your spouse.
We get to see the home lives of those raising children in the faith; whether it’s young children learning by hearing and absorbing the Word of God lavished on them by their parents, or teenagers using what they’ve been taught to make the best decisions they can to remain faithful adults. It is very clear in depicting the need for catechesis of children from birth onward, and, also, that you are never too old or too catechized to get more catechesis.
The only somewhat negative thing I can come up with is there are more story threads in this book than in the others. This leads to a more episodic feel with some characters only showing up for a couple chapters; if they happen to be one of your favorite characters this can be a little disappointing (though you get time with other, new, lovable ones). The positive side is that there are a lot of topics that come up in passing that are addressed tactfully and never sound preachy. They are all completely reasonable situations to come up in the life of a Christian and not only are they woven into a complete and seamless story but they also give a path or a script on how to compassionately think about or deal with tough issues.
Some of the circumstances that come up are infertility (or differences in fertility between friends), how to love homosexual family and friends, abortion, past trauma, and domestic violence.
“Trigger warnings” get a lot of bad press, but there are scenes involving the memory of violent death, of semi-graphic physical assault, and of intense invasion of privacy. If those bother you, you have been forewarned and can prepare yourself for them or avoid if you need to.
Overall, the story does not disappoint. It’s not as much a clean ending as the previous two books, there’s still sadness for some of the people. But there’s hope, hope in Christ and His love, and a contentment in vocational calling. So much of the story revolves around vocation. Unhappiness comes when the vocation of mother is attacked as “not enough” or when a husband is seen as “not sharing enough” or when marriage is “not attainable enough”. It’s only when they can rest in their already given vocations and see the good in others’ vocations that peace can be found, even if it might not the happily ever after that they wanted.
Go get The Harvest Raise and read it. Or go get all of The Anthems of Zion books if you haven’t read any of them. You will laugh and you will cry and the tears will be of joy, heartache, and from the sheer amount of good theology.