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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

No editorial review at this time.


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 abbreviated excerpt only...

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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