Brenda K. Jernigan, Author . Harmony $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-609-60790-9

Maggie Davidson, the narrator of this earnest first novel, is an old-fashioned girl. She's a regular churchgoer in her little North Carolina town; she helps her indomitable Granny run the tobacco farm where Maggie and her fey but loving mother, Lily, live; and she is honest, kind and dutiful. When, at age 10, she sees a vision of God as a woman, it's no surprise to the reader, since all the women in this story are stalwart and truly pious, while the men—with one exception—are feckless (Maggie's alcoholic father, who has left the family), mean and domineering, bigoted or worse. When Maggie discovers she has healing powers, she becomes a celebrity, but she never loses her sincere piety and her virtue. By the time Maggie reaches her late teens, an article in Life magazine brings Princeton seminary student Alex Barrons to tiny Canaan to interview her for his thesis on modern-day mystics. Jernigan is anything but subtle in depicting the ways some people exploit religious piety, and the ways others (notably Alex) manage to be observant without proclaiming their personal sanctity. The rural local color is more delicately rendered, however, as is the social climate of the Kennedy era. But predictable plotting turns the narrative into a run-of-the-mill romance, with Maggie the typical heroine who creates roadblocks to her own happiness. Maggie's loss of faith and God's return to her life are easy to predict, as are the lessons that rationalist Alex teaches her about the power of love and belief. Jernigan's prose is more sophisticated than her story; but her heartwarming novel will appeal to those who like their fiction sweet and easy. Agent, Mary Ann Naples. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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