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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

18 October 2003 UNCOMMON FAITH by Trudy Krisher, Holiday House, October 2003, ISBN 0-8234-1791-3


" 'What I hate most in this world,' she said, 'are all the things folks believe that just aren't true...Like saying that teaching a girl's like trying to get a mule to dance.' "


"Dainty as a Dresden statue, gentle as a Jersey cow,

Smooth as silk, gives cream and milk

Learn to coo, learn to moo

That's what you do to be a lady, now."

--Peggy Seeger, I'm Gonna Be An Engineer, 1970


UNCOMMON FAITH tells the story of Faith Common, a smart and feisty fourteen year-old preacher's daughter who struggles--in a manner perceived as unladylike--to free herself and her town's other females, young and old, from the constraints of nineteenth century sexism. Set in 1837 in Millbrook, Massachusetts--a decade prior to Seneca Falls, and a quarter-century before the Emancipation Proclamation--and narrated in alternating chapters by Faith's brother and nine of her neighbors, it is a captivating snapshot of patriarchal America in the early years of the long (and ongoing) struggle to make things fair for all folks who live in the "Land of the Free."


" 'Why shouldn't girls want to learn about something that's interesting?'

" Even Celia Tanner picked up her head to listen.

" 'Well, they just can't, Miss Fisher. It's just not done,' Amos Read said, dismissing Betsy.

" 'Well, why not?' asked Faith. She moved close to Amos, thrusting her face right up to his, right next to the glasses and the milky blue eyes.

"Amos Read cleared his throat. 'You see, Faith,' he said, parading before the boys. 'Studying geometry requires logical deduction.

"Now Amos waved an arrogant finger in the air. 'One must be able to see that one thing leads to another. From a plane figure, say, to a quadrilateral and then to a square or a rhombus. And so forth. Geometry's logical. It makes sense.

" 'So why can't girls learn to make use of its good sense, too?'

"Amos turned sharply to face Faith. His spectacles glinted harshly against the light. The master was growing angry.

" 'Everybody knows why not,' he said haughtily, backing away from Faith and nodding at the boys. 'Women are flighty. Illogical. Everybody knows they haven't the logical capacities.'

"Faith bristled. 'Everybody knows? I hate those words. Can "everybody" prove that girls don't have this logical capacity?'

" 'Well, they don't have to prove it. You don't have to prove things that everybody knows!' Now Master Read stamped his foot. I knew what the stamp meant: Amos was dismissing her. 'Obviously it's quite impossible for girls to study geometry,' he said, warming to his own words. 'Completely impossible, in fact. Besides,' Amos added with authority, 'the kind of learning you are asking to acquire is even forbidden by the Bible. The prohibition is in First Timothy.' "


Faith's grandfather is a retired Congregationalist minister, her father a Methodist minister. An important aspect of the story is the effect that Faith's activism has on her mother. Emma Common is an Everywoman character. She is caught on one side by love and obedience for her father and her husband as well as by the way things have always been. On the other side are the clearly justifiable complaints of oppression by the daughter she loves and the slowly evolving perception that she, Emma, is also an oppressed woman. Emma's awakening and transformation are vividly depicted in a scene late in the story, when she dares to challenge her husband:


" 'But John,' I heard her say, 'Methodists oppose slavery on principle, don't they? Hetty told me that good Methodists have permitted her friends, the Grimkes to speak when Congreationalists forbade it.'

"My father's baritone became a bass. 'Most Methodists, Emma, Father said, resist slavery on principle. But there is not universal agreement. The most troubling issue is that the contraversy is threatening the church itself. There are rumors that the church will soon divide in two. One north, another south.'

"My mother ducked her head. Her coverlet was draped across her lap, and from where I sat, the tree branches on its surface looked like brown throbbing veins. When she finally responded, she kept her eyes cast down. 'What would be so terrible about that, John? If the principle is wrong, wouldn't justice be served by separation?

"My father looked disturbed. I recognized that look. It was the same look he gave me when I practiced preaching with him beside the river.

" 'After all we've done to build the church, Emma?' he said. 'After all our struggles to free it from the strictures of Calvinism?'

"Mother studied her quilt while Father continued.

" 'Methodists are about connection, Emma. Not separation.' His voice was a chord of anger and disbelief.

" 'But doesn't justice require separation from things that are wrong?' she asked firmly. 'And doesn't justice often provoke controversy?'

" 'Controversy,' he replied equally firmly, 'is not the province of women.' The timbre in his voice declared the conversation over."


Another important aspect of UNCOMMON FAITH is the conflict over the true meaning (and relevance) of those Biblical passages used to facilitate the oppression of women and African-Americans. The community's Quakers have their own quotes to back up their opposition to slavery and support for equality between all.


Through the story's conflicts, Faith learns that knowledge is power and that the men seem to get all the credit--even when the women have done all of the work. And after being frustrated in her earlier attempts to change "the system," Faith finally learns how to use that powerful lever--solidarity--to start moving seemingly immovable objects that block the path. \


Readers will relate to the lives and struggles of Faith and the other distinctly drawn adolescent female--and male--characters in Millbrook. Some are likable, some are despicable, but all are believable.


UNCOMMON FAITH is an uncommonly great piece of historic fiction. It surely joins the ranks of the top contenders for the next Scott O'Dell Medal.


"I been a sucker ever since I was a baby

As a daughter, as a mother, as a lover, as a dear

But I'll fight them as a woman, not a lady

I'll fight them as an engineer!"


Richie Partington




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