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The Grave of God's Daughter    by Brett Ellen Block order for
Grave of God's Daughter
by Brett Ellen Block
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

This is the story of a secret, an unthinkable secret that caused a rift between a mother and a daughter, one that also broke the bond that held a brother and sister tightly together to face their daily lives. It's 1941, just before the United States entered World War II. Hyde Bend is a small town just east of Pittsburgh, whose major industry is the steel mill. Most of the residents are of Polish descent and Polish is spoken freely here.

Even though this is Brett Ellen Block's first novel, it reads as though she was born writing. The novel flows like the river that runs beside Hyde Bend, with never a break in a narrative that carries the story to its only conclusion. It speaks of the influence of the Catholic Church. It whispers of the first lie that makes all succeeding ones necessary. It probes the relationship between parents, as their children strive to understand. A young girl's desire to right what she sees as a wrong leads her to accept and hide punishment she's sure she doesn't deserve. At the end, her innocence evaporates, as does her belief that she can make the world right again. The story is set in a struggling town that runs in mud and overflowing riverbanks, with men who frequent the local tavern rather than returning home after their shifts at the mill.

The Grave of God's Daughter is told simply, but with an intensity that drives the reader to turn page after page, in order to absorb a story that involves but a week of time but carries through a lifetime. It reminds us of the prejudices that existed in that period and the major life changes that they influenced. And it makes one wonder how far we have gone to eradicate those feelings. A powerful novel.

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