Monday 2 December 2013

Book ~ "The Secret Diary of Sarah Chamberlain" (2013) Sarah Norkus

From Goodreads ~ In the year 2008, fifteen year-old Emily Grace (Em) discovers a secret hiding place under a wooden plank in the attic of an old house in Petersburg. It conceals a 150 year-old-diary belonging to Sarah Chamberlain, the previous owner of the house. Carefully turning to the last entry, Em’s interest is piqued by the mention of missing confederate gold and a murder mystery. She slips the diary into the pocket of her capris.

As she reads the diary, Em is touched by Sarah’s deep love for her husband, Robert. Emotionally, Em’s life is spinning out of control and the diary is a welcome distraction. Each day her faith slips further and further away as she blames God for the many trials and tribulations she has had to endure. After rereading the last page and Robert’s senseless murder, she has one more reason to doubt God’s love for his creation.  Em slips the diary back in her pocket planning to return it to the attic before helping her mother clean the old house in Petersburg.

While scrubbing black scuffmarks off the kitchen floor, Em has an emotional meltdown airing her list of grievances, including Robert’s murder, before God. As she shouts that she doesn’t believe he really exists, vertigo suddenly hits with a vengeance and she passes out. Regaining consciousness, Em is dumbfounded; the kitchen has been replaced by a nineteenth century parlor.

It's summertime in 2008 and 15-year-old Em spends her days playing basketball with her friends and helping her mother clean the Chamberlain House, a historic building owned by the Petersburg Benevolent Ladies Society.  One day she is cleaning the attic and discovers the diary of Sarah Chamberlain, which was written from 1860 to 1865.  During this time, the Civil War was going on and Sarah wrote about her life as a newlywed in her diary.  With the war coming to an end, her husband, Robert, is arrested since he was fighting on the side of the south.  His guards, thinking he knows where some hidden gold is, eventually kill him.

Around this time, Em is doubting the existence of God ... she's had (and recovered from) cancer, her dog was hit by a car, her aunt is losing her house and now she reads that Robert had died senselessly.  She passes out while cleaning the house and when she comes to, she is still in the house but it's a few days before Robert is due to be killed.  She has amnesia and is taken care of by Sarah and her household.

Em struggled her way back to consciousness. Moving her cheek on the floor, she puzzled at the sensation. Linoleum was supposed to be smooth and hard, not soft. She slowly opened her eyes and blinked at a table leg about a half an inch from her nose. Wiggling on her belly away from the table leg, Em placed her hands flat and prepared to push herself up. Her eyes widened. Her hands were on either side of a large, red rose embroidered into a rug. She jerked in shock, banging her head on the bottom of a wooden table.

“Ouch,” Em said, rubbing the top of her head.

After scooting backward so she wouldn’t hit her head again, Em sat up and looked around the room. Gone were the sink and the shiny, new chrome faucets. Gone, too, were the refrigerator and stove. In fact, the whole kitchen had disappeared, along with the worn linoleum. “That’s no great loss; in fact, that’s the best part of this crazy dream I’m having,” Em thought.

Em’s brows knitted together. She must be dreaming, although she couldn’t remember ever having the sensation of touch in a dream. Her fingers rubbed across the pile of the rug.

On the ledge over the fireplace, which was no longer bricked in, sat a clock. It ticked rhythmically and showed the time to be ten o’clock. To the right of the fireplace was a beautiful needlepoint chair. Two dark wood chairs faced each other, their cushions upholstered in a floral pattern. One rested to the left of the fireplace, the other was next to the doorway. Each chair had a walnut wooden table next to it, with an oil lamp on each. Against the far wall was a settee, the cushion a slightly worn dusty rose. The walls were painted a moss green. The heavy drapes on the windows next to the fireplace matched the settee. Chills ran down Em’s spine. It all looked so real.

Turning around to look behind her, Em saw the antique writing table that had been sent out to be restored. A small dark wooden chair perched between the drawers. Trembling, Em pushed herself up off the floor on shaky legs. She tentatively touched the smooth surface of the writing table.

“Mom!” Em screamed.

A door slammed and Em heard footsteps.

But instead of her mother, the biggest black man she had ever seen filled the doorway. He wore a stained and faded white shirt and calf-length brown work pants. His feet were bare and covered in dirt. His short cropped hair looked like a gray Brillo pad. He held a long-handled, curved knife. Em took a step backward, lost her balance, and fell, hitting her head on the mantle of the fireplace. Pain exploded in her head. She crumpled to the floor.

I like books about time travel.  This is the first book I've read by this author and I liked it.  Though the story and writing style are directed at a YA reader, I didn't find it was too immature for me.  The editing could have been tighter as there were some grammatical errors and typos.

The author handled the time period well ... it was fun to read about Em trying to fit in with the clothes (she arrived in capris and a tank top which in 1865 appeared to be underwear) and manner of speech (in 1865 "cool" and "gross", for example, have different meanings than they do today).

Em and Sarah and their family and friends have faith.  I'm not religious but I didn't find it to be too overwhelming.

I would recommend this book.  It would appeal to lovers of time travel and history.


Masshole Mommy said...

This sounds like a great book.

Rita Wray said...

The book sounds very interesting.

Unknown said...

Thank you Teena in Toronto for hosting my book today and your very nice review.

Chelsea B. said...

I like how most reviews are pointing out that the religious aspects aren't too overwhelming. That is comforting, and makes me want to read the book more!


Andra Lyn said...

Teena- What was your favorite part of the book?

Sarah- What was your favorite/ least favorite part to write of the story??

andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

Unknown said...

Hey Andra Lyn,

Favorite -When Em went back to her own time and discovered what Sarah had left for her in the hiding place in the attic. Least favorite -when Em had to say goodbye to the people she had grown to love in 1865.

Natasha said...

Sounds like a great read!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Mary Preston said...

This is going to be a fantastic read for my daughter too I think.