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Angel Sister: A Novel
by Ann H. Gabhart

Published: 2011-02-01
Paperback : 416 pages
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“Like a Kentucky summer, Angel Sister starts slow and easy but by the end, roars along, leaving the reader breathless and wanting more. What a jewel of a story. Reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird.”—Lauraine Snelling, author of the Red River series, Daughters of Blessing, and One ...
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“Like a Kentucky summer, Angel Sister starts slow and easy but by the end, roars along, leaving the reader breathless and wanting more. What a jewel of a story. Reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird.”—Lauraine Snelling, author of the Red River series, Daughters of Blessing, and One Perfect Day In this richly textured novel, award-winning author Ann H. Gabhart reveals the power of true love, the freedom of forgiveness, and the strength to persevere through troubled times, all against the backdrop of a sultry Kentucky summer. You will be drawn into the story and find yourself lingering there long after you’ve turned the last page.

Editorial Review

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Something woke Kate Merritt. Her eyes fl ew open and her
heart began to thump in her ears. She couldn’t see a thing.
Not even a hint of moonlight was fi ltering through the lace
curtains at the bedroom window. The dark night wrapped
around her like a thick blanket as she stared up toward her
bedroom ceiling and fervently hoped it was nothing but a
bad dream shaking her awake.

Next to Kate, Evie’s breath was whisper quiet. Her sister
obviously hadn’t heard whatever it was that had jerked Kate
from sleep. Slowly Kate’s eyes began adjusting to the darkness,
but she didn’t need to see to know how Evie’s red hair
would be spread around her head like a halo. Or that even in
sleep she’d have a death grip on the top sheet so Kate couldn’t
pull it off her. Kate always woke up every day with her pillow
on the fl oor and her hair sticking out in all directions. The
total opposite of Evie, who got up with barely a rumple in
her nightgown.

Just a couple of mornings ago, their mother had laughed as
she smoothed down Kate’s tangled dark brown hair. “Don’t
you worry about not being as ladylike as Evangeline. Your
sister’s going on seventeen. When you get older, you’ll be
more like her.”

Kate jerked away from her mother. “Like Evie? I don’t
have to be, do I? That would be awful. Really awful,” she
said before she thought. Kate was always doing that. Saying
things before she thought.

But she didn’t want to be like Evie. Ever. Evie wouldn’t
climb trees or catch frogs down at the creek. She even claimed
to prefer reading inside by the oil lamp instead of playing
hide-and-seek after dark. The truth was she was scared of
her shadow.

Evie wasn’t only worried about things in the dark. Day or
night she shrieked if anybody so much as mentioned Fern
Lindell. True, Fern—who lived down the road—was off her
rocker, but Kate wasn’t a bit afraid of her. At least not unless
she was carrying around her little axe. Then anybody with
any sense knew to stay away from her.

One thing sure, Kate had sense. That was because she was
the middle sister, and the middle sister had to learn early on
to take care of herself. And not only herself. Half the time
she had to take care of Evie too, and all the time Tori who
turned ten last month.

In the cot across the room, Tori was breathing soft and
peaceful. So Tori hadn’t been what woke Kate, but something
had. Kate raised her head up off her pillow and listened. The
middle sister had to make sure everything was all right.
Kate didn’t mind. She might be only fourteen, but she
knew things. She kept her eyes and ears open and did what
had to be done. Of course sometimes it might be better to
be like Evie, who had a way of simply ignoring anything
that didn’t fi t into her idea of how things should be, or Tori,
who didn’t worry about much except whether she could fi nd
enough worms to go fi shing. Neither of them was holding
her breath waiting to see if the bump in the night might be
their father sneaking in after being out drinking.

Victor Merritt learned to drink in France. At least that’s
what Kate overheard Aunt Hattie telling Mama a few months
back. They didn’t know she heard them. She was supposed
to be at school, but she’d run back home to get the history
report she left on the table by the front door. Kate tiptoed
across the porch and inched the door open to keep it from
creaking. She aimed to grab the paper and be in and out
without her mother hearing her. That way she’d only be in
hot water at school and not at home too.

They didn’t know she was there. Not even Aunt Hattie,
who just about always knew everything. After all, she’d delivered
nearly every baby who’d been born in Rosey Corner
since the turn of the century thirty-six years ago. A lot of
folks avoided Aunt Hattie unless a baby was on the way or
they needed somebody to do their wash, but not Mama. She
said you might not be able to depend on a lot in this world,
but you could depend on Aunt Hattie telling you the truth.
Like it or not.

That morning last spring when Kate had crept back in the
house and heard her mother and Aunt Hattie, it sounded as
if Kate’s mother wasn’t liking a lot of things. She was crying.
The sound pierced Kate and pinned her to the fl oor right
inside the door. She hardly dared breathe.
She should have grabbed the paper and gone right back out
the door. That was what she should have done, but instead
she stood still as a stone and listened. Of course she knew
her father drank. Everybody in Rosey Corner knew that.

Nothing stayed secret long in their little community. Two
churches, one school, two general stores—the one run by
Grandfather Merritt had a gasoline pump—and her father’s
blacksmith shop.

“But why?” Kate’s mother said between sobs.
Aunt Hattie didn’t sound cross the way she sometimes did
when people started crying around her. Instead she sounded
like she might be about to cry herself. Kate couldn’t remember
ever seeing Aunt Hattie cry. Not even when she talked about
her son dying in the war over in France.

“Some answers we can’t be seein’, Nadine. We wasn’t over
there. But our Victor was. Men right beside him died. He got
some whiff s of that poison gas those German devils used.
He laid down on the cold hard ground and stared up at the
same moon you was starin’ up at but without the fi rst idea
of whether or not he’d ever be looking at it with you again.
He couldn’t even be sure he’d see the sun come up.”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant.” Kate’s mother swallowed
back her tears, and her voice got stronger, more like
Kate was used to hearing. “I mean, why now? I grant you he
started drinking over there, but when he got home, he didn’t
drink all that much. Just a nip now and again, but lately he
dives into the bottle like he wants to drown in it.”

“It ain’t got the fi rst thing to do with you, child. He still
loves his girls.” Now Aunt Hattie’s voice was soft and kind,
the voice she used when she was talking to some woman
about to have a baby.

“The girls perhaps. Me, I’m not so sure anymore.” Kate
couldn’t see her mother, but she knew the look that would
be on her face. Her lips would be mashed together like she
had just swallowed something that tasted bad.

“You can be sure. I knows our Victor. I’s the fi rst person
to ever lay eyes on him when he come into the world. And a
pitiful sight he was. Barely bigger than my hand. His mama,
Miss Juanita, had trouble carryin’ her babies. We lost the
two before Victor. You remember Miss Juanita. How she
was prone to the vapors. She was sure we would lose Victor
even after he made the journey out to daylight and pulled
in that fi rst breath, but no how was I gonna let that happen.
Raised him right alongside my own boy. Bo was four when
our Victor was born.”

Kate heard a chair creak as if maybe her mother had shifted
to get more comfortable. Everybody knew it wasn’t any use
trying to stop Aunt Hattie when she started talking about her
boy. “My Bo was a sturdy little feller. Stronger and smarter
than most. Soon’s Victor started walking, Bo took it upon
hisself to watch out for him. Miss Juanita paid him some for
it once he got older.” Aunt Hattie paused as if realizing she’d
gone a little far afi eld. “Anyhows that’s how I knows Victor
hasn’t stopped carin’ about you, girl, ‘cause I know our Victor.
He’s just strugglin’ some now what with the way things
is goin’ at his shop. Folks is wantin’ to drive those motorcars
and puttin’ their horses out to pasture. It ain’t right, but a
pile of things that happen ain’t right.”

Kate expected Aunt Hattie to start talking about Bo dying
in France, but she didn’t. Instead she stopped talking altogether,
and it was so quiet that Kate was sure they’d hear
her breathing. She wanted to step backward, out the door,
but she had to wait until somebody said something. The only
noise was the slow tick of the clock on the mantel and the
soft hiss of water heating on the cooking stove. Nothing that
would cover up the sound of her sneaking out of the house.

Kate was up to fi fty-fi ve ticks when her mother finally
spoke again. “I don’t believe in drinking alcohol to hide from
your problems.”

“No way you could with how your own daddy has been
preaching against that very thing since the beginnin’ of time.
Preacher Reece, he don’t cut nobody no slack.”

“There are better ways of handling troubles than making
more troubles by drinking too much.” Mama’s voice didn’t
have the fi rst hint of doubt in it.

“I ain’t arguing with you, Nadine. I’s agreein’ all the way.”

“Then what am I supposed to do, Aunt Hattie?”

“I ain’t got no answers. Alls I can do is listen and maybe
talk to one who does have the answers.”

“I’ve been praying.”

“Course you have, but maybe we can join our prayers together.
It says in the Good Book that where two or more agree
on something, the Lord pays attention. Me. You. We’s two.”

“Pray with me right now, Aunt Hattie. For Victor. And the
girls.” Her mother hesitated before she went on. “Especially
Kate. She’s picked up some of the load I can’t seem to make
myself shoulder.”

In the front room, Kate pulled in her breath.
“Don’t you be worryin’ none about that child. She’s got
some broad shoulders. Here, grab hold of my hands.” Aunt
Hattie’s voice changed, got a little louder as if she wanted to
make sure the Lord could hear her plain. “Our holy Father
who watches over us up in heaven. May we always honor ever’
living day you give us. We praise you for lettin’ us have this
very day right now. And for sending us trials and tribulations
so that we can learn to lean on you.”

She fell silent a moment as if considering those tribula-
tions. Then she started praying again. “Help our Victor. You
knows what he needs better than me or even your sweet child,
Nadine here. Turn him away from the devil’s temptations and
bring him home to his family. Not just his feet but his heart
too. And strengthen that family and watch over them, each
and every one. Increase their joy and decrease their sorrow.
Especially our Katherine Reece. Put your hand over top her
and keep her from wrong.”

Kate didn’t wait to hear any more. She felt like Aunt Hattie’s
eyes were seeing right through the walls and poking
into her. Seeing her doing wrong right that moment as she
stood there eavesdropping on them. Kate snatched her history
paper off the table and tiptoed out of the house. Once
off the porch she didn’t stop running until she was going up
the steps into the school.

The prayer hadn’t worked yet. At least not the part about her
father resisting the devil’s temptation to go out drinking. Kate
worried that the Lord hadn’t answered Aunt Hattie’s prayer
because Kate had been listening when she shouldn’t have been.
As if somehow that had made the prayer go sideways instead
of up toward heaven the way Aunt Hattie had intended.

Now Kate stayed perfectly still to keep the bedsprings from
squeaking as she listened intently for whatever had awakened
her. The front screen door rattled against the doorframe. That
could have been the wind if any wind had been blowing, but
then there was a bump as somebody ran into the table beside
the door. Kate let out her breath as she sat up on the side of
the bed and felt for a match. After she lit the small kerosene
lamp, she didn’t bother fi shing under the bed for her shoes.
The night was hot, and her father had made it through the
front door.

“Please don’t get sick.” She mouthed the words silently
as she adjusted the wick to keep the fl ame low. She hated
cleaning up after him when he got sick. From the sour smell
of alcohol creeping back into the bedroom toward her, she
guessed he might have already been sick before he came inside.

She looked back at Evie as she stood up. Evie looked just
as Kate had imagined her moments earlier, but she didn’t fool
Kate. She was awake. Her eyes were shut too tight, and Kate
couldn’t be positive in the dim light, but she thought she saw
a tear on her cheek. “No sense crying now, Evie. Daddy’s
home,” Kate whispered softly.

Evie kept pretending to be asleep, but tears were defi nitely
sliding out of the corners of her eyes. Kate sighed as she
turned away from the bed. “Go on back to sleep, Evie. I’ll
take care of him.”

Kate carried her lamp toward the front room where her
father was tripping over the rocking chair. She wondered if
her mother was lying in her bed pretending to sleep and if
she had tears on her cheeks. She wouldn’t get up. Not even
if Daddy fell fl at on his face in the middle of the fl oor. She
couldn’t. Not and keep cooking him breakfast when daylight
came. Kate knew that. She didn’t know how she knew it,
but she did.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. Angel Sister is set in 1936 during the Great Depression. Do you see similarities with today’s economic hard times? What are the major differences?

2. Kate thinks of herself as the responsible sister and wants to take care of her family. Why do you think she feels this way? Did you ever feel this way while you were growing up—as if it were up to you to make everything right in your family? Do you think that’s a common feeling for some children?

3. Victor loves Nadine and his girls desperately and yet he kept giving in to the temptation to drink even though his drinking was threatening to destroy his family life. Why do you think he couldn’t resist the temptation? Do you believe the Lord can free people of addictive habits if they give them over to him in prayer? Have you known this (the Lord taking away an addiction) to happen to anyone you know?

4. Nadine has a strong, unquestioning faith in the Lord. How do you think that helped her endure her father’s harsh attitude and actions? Do you think her life would have been a great deal different if she hadn’t gone back to Rosey Corner after Victor left to fight the war in France?

5. Lorena’s parents desert her on the church steps. Do you think her mother left her there out of love because she truly trusted the Lord to send someone to take care of Lorena? Can you imagine being so desperately poor that you might consider giving up a child if you thought the child would be better off?

6. Kate wants more than anything to be Lorena’s angel sister and take care of the little girl. When Grandfather Merritt takes the child from her, she tells her father she no longer believes there is a God. Have you ever been so disappointed and hurt that you turned away from the Lord?

7. Lorena’s name is her connection to her past and her way of remembering her family. Do you think she kept saying “My name is Lorena Birdsong” or do you think after a while she no longer had the need to declare her name every night? How did you feel in the story when Kate, Lorena, and Graham shouted their names after the fire? Did it make you want to shout out your name too?

8. Why do you think Ella Baxter wanted to adopt Lorena when it was obvious she didn’t like children? Do you think in that day and time a childless woman had a stigma on her?

9. Victor never felt loved by his father. Why do you think his father was so hard on him? Do you think Nadine was right when she told Victor to forgive his father? Do you think Victor was a more loving father to his daughters because his own father was so cold toward him?

10. Why do you think Graham and Fern lived the way they did? Do you think without the responsibility of taking care of Fern, Graham would have lived a different life? Do you think Fern was mentally ill or simply closed off from the world because that was how she coped with the bad happenings in her life?

11. Aunt Hattie knew the Lord and she knew the people of Rosey Corner. Why do you think she was unable to stand up to Preston Merritt when she seemed to have no problem with anybody else?

12. Kate asked Grandfather Reece and her mother if they believed in guardian angels. Do you believe in guardian angels?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from author Ann Gabhart:

Dear Readers,

What fun to be able to tell you about my new book! Angel Sister is a story of my heart since the spark of the idea came from the many stories my mother and her sisters used to tell about growing up during the Depression years. They had a loving family but their life wasn’t without problems. On top of that their little community surely had the widest assortment of odd characters you might ever want to meet.

So I took the flavor of their stories and came up with my own Merritt family. I stirred in a couple of those eccentric characters and dropped in an abandoned little girl who desperately needs an angel sister. Then we step back in time to share the flowering of Victor and Nadine’s love during World War I. But will that love be strong enough to hold the family together as they’re bombarded with problems – some of their own making – during these hard times? Can they trust one another and the Lord?

I’m hoping you’ll like the Merritts every bit as much as I did while they were whispering their story into my imagination.

Happy reading,

Ann H. Gabhart

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Member Reviews

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  "angel sister"by chris h. (see profile) 04/19/11

Set in the Depression with many flashbacks to Nadine and Victor courting and marrying just before the WWI, this is a study in how families nurture and support each other-or belittle and destroy. Lots of... (read more)

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