Monday, January 28, 2019

Review: "How the Light Gets In" by Jolina Petersheim

In How the Light Gets In, author Jolina Petersheim takes the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz and transplants it into a modern-day Mennonite community.

From the highly acclaimed author of The Outcast and The Alliance comes an engrossing novel about marriage and motherhood, loss and moving on.

When Ruth Neufeld’s husband and father-in-law are killed working for a relief organization overseas, she travels to Wisconsin with her young daughters and mother-in-law Mabel to bury her husband. She hopes the Mennonite community will be a quiet place to grieve and piece together next steps.

Ruth and her family are welcomed by Elam, her husband’s cousin, who invites them to stay at his cranberry farm through the harvest. Sifting through fields of berries and memories of a marriage that was broken long before her husband died, Ruth finds solace in the beauty of the land and healing through hard work and budding friendship. She also encounters the possibility of new love with Elam, whose gentle encouragement awakens hopes and dreams she thought she’d lost forever.

But an unexpected twist threatens to unseat the happy ending Ruth is about to write for herself. On the precipice of a fresh start and a new marriage, Ruth must make an impossible decision: which path to choose if her husband isn’t dead after all.

“Compellingly woven by Jolina Petersheim’s capable pen, How the Light Gets In follows a trail of grief toward healing, leading to an impossible choice–what is best when every path will hurt someone?” –Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

Simply Stunning. Those are the first words that come to mind when thinking of How the Light Gets In. Those words are quickly followed by "maddening," "heartbreaking," and "impossibly difficult."

When Ruth's husband Chandler is killed in a bombing in Afghanistan, her mother-in-law Mabel invites her and her young daughters to stay with Mabel's Old Order Mennonite relatives. Adrift in a completely foreign world, Ruth soon comes to appreciate the simple, unconnected-with-the-outside-world life Mabel's relatives lead, and she also forms a friendship and then more with her husband's cousin Elam. With Elam, Ruth feels treasured, and she quickly discovers she wants to build a life with him.

Ruth is faced with heartbreaking decision after heartbreaking decision as she tries to raise her two daughters without Chandler, but with two people she never imagined as a major part of her life in Mabel and Elam, and she also must work through her feelings of anger and abandonment brought on both by Chandler's absence during life and his untimely death. Then there are her feelings for Elam, a gentle, sweet bachelor who adores her and cares for her daughters.

And here's where this review becomes difficult. There are so many twists in this novel that saying any more would be too spoilerish. So I'll just say this: keep reading. When Ruth's life turns upside down, keep reading. When she begins making decisions that have you wanting to scream at her, keep reading. And when your heart is breaking, keep reading, clear to the end. Some readers may not appreciate how the book ends, but I thought it was perfect.

This book would be such a great book club selection: the novel brings up so many questions of right and wrong and "What would I do?" that it would make for wonderful discussion. And I have a feeling that readers will either love or loathe the ending. I fall in the love camp (because I had big feelings about where the story was headed, and I felt it resolved wonderfully), but I could easily see someone hating it. And now I really need one of my friends to read it, so I can talk about all of those big feelings I can't talk about here. 5 stars.

Read an excerpt.
Buy the book: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble
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Jolina Petersheim is the highly acclaimed author of The Divide, The Alliance, The Midwife, and The Outcast, which Library Journal called "outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational" in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller and was featured in Huffington Post's Fall Picks, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Tennessean. CBA Retailers + Resources called her second book, The Midwife, "an excellent read [that] will be hard to put down," and Booklist selected The Alliance as one of their Top 10 Inspirational Fiction Titles for 2016. The Alliance was also a finalist for the 2017 Christy Award in the Visionary category. The sequel to The Alliance, The Divide, won the 2018 INSPY Award for Speculative Fiction. Jolina's non-fiction writing has been featured in Reader's Digest, Writer's Digest, Today's Christian Woman, and Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their three young daughters. Jolina's fifth novel, How the Light Gets In, a modern retelling of Ruth set in a cranberry bog in Wisconsin, releases March 2019.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through TLC Book Tours. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Thank you for your wonderful review, Becky! I had big feelings about that ending, too. It honestly kind of even took me by surprise. :)

    1. I went through stages of being angry, then accepting, then ... well, you know ;-) LOVED IT!!!


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