ORCHARD OF HOPE (Revell March 1, 2007) by Ann Gabhart


Ann H. Gabhart has published a number of adult and young adult novels with several different publishers. The author of The Scent of Lilacs, Ann and her husband live a mile from where she was born in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. She is active in her country church, and her husband sings bass in a southern gospel quartet.

In the summer of 1964, drought has gripped the quiet Kentucky town of Hollyhill, and Jocie Brooke is nervous about starting high school. Her sister Tabitha is experiencing the weariness of waiting for a new baby. Her father David is feeling the timidity of those first steps toward true love.

In steps the Hearndons. Fresh off the Freedom Train, Myra Hearndon is sensitive to what the color of her skin may mean in a Southern town. Her family will have to contend with more than the dry ground and blazing sun as they try to create their Orchard of Hope.


Gabhart presents us with a challenging tale about an episode in our history some of us would rather forget, but the author obviously feels needs remembered. I’m glad she ends on a hopeful note, I’ve known hurting souls out there still harboring anger at what someone did to their daddy or granddaddy, and reaping the destructive fruits of unforgiveness in their lives and I would hate to see this tear open the old wounds more rather than bringing the healing our country needs. Though, in retrospect, this does make the theme in the book about forgiveness a nice touch.

Set in the sixties, you can bet it’s calling us on the floor for judgmental attitudes that demand a repentant sinner (such as an unwed mother like Tabitha) spend the rest of their lives apologizing.

Some of us need it. But the timeliness of it concerns me in that the American Church today has largely gone to the opposite extreme and has much more in common with the Church of Corinth, that boasted to Paul of their “loving” tolerance of a man living in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. It’s true the old school is alive in some quarters, but as we’re good at focusing on the polar opposite of the problem we’re actually having, I fear the story will more appeal to those who accept as members in good standing unrepentant souls actively engaged in immoral lifestyles rather than those of us who actually need to hear it’s message.

It, perhaps inadvertently, highlights a common issue on both sides: the inability to separate a child from the sin that created it. The unwed mother will often refuse to repent of her sin, because in her mind, that remorse would mean wishing her child had never been born, and likewise, a rare few in the church have a hard time loving and supporting the child, or
the mother through her pregnancy, in fear of condoning the sin that brought it about. I humbly submit both should look to Christ our Redeemer who brings good–the birth of a child–out of evil.

Still, if you’re up for a challenge, Orchard of Hope is at the same time a smooth country drive that will keep you reading. The pacing must have been a real challenge in itself for the author, but she pulled it off. It reads well enough alone, but still is begging to be read in conjunction with The Scent of Lilacs, which Orchard of Hope follows.