To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to write a review of this book because I really didn’t enjoy it. I read it in August when I downloaded it to my Kindle. If I’m not mistaken, it was free at that time (but lists at $8.99 for a download as of this writing). “The Outsider” tells the story of Gabrielle Hope, a young woman who lives within a Shaker community in Kentucky during the War of 1812. She falls in love with an “outsider”, a young doctor who lives nearby. The book is the story of their seemingly star-crossed love, as Gabrielle struggles with her faith and the Shaker’s commitments and Brice, the doctor (were people named that back then?), tries to move on with his life.
So – here’s the good about this book: it’s historical fiction and I always enjoy reading about things where I can learn something new. (I find reading about the Shakers or the Amish rather fascinating since it’s so removed from my daily experience.) I did read this book through to the end so I could see how it turned out.
That said, here are my problems with the book. First of all, I always have trouble with story lines where two people see each other, barely interact, but become completely and irrevocably in love with each other. Did these two even get to know each other? Where did this undying love come from? I would have appreciated more of a build up of their relationship. I also had some questions about the story line, such as: where were all the other young people in this Shaker community? Gabrielle teaches school to the little girls, but do they have no mothers? I know that in Shaker groups there are no families, but except for the tragic Esther (who ends up dying), Gabrielle seems to be the only person remotely on this side of menopause. She is even referred to as “the young sister”. Where did those little kids come from? It’s always possible they were left by their families, but it didn’t make sense to me that Gabrielle had no one to be with except a couple of cranky, mean, old biddies. I honestly would put this book down at night and think: “Wow, those Shakers were a miserable lot”, and I’m not sure that is true in reality. At the same time, things were so incredibly bleak and miserable, it was puzzling to me why Gabrielle wouldn’t leave (she was free to go at any time, though you’d never know it); and if those cranky, old sisters hated her, why didn’t they encourage her to leave? Finally, there were a few plot devices that I had to wonder about. What significance was Gabrielle’s “gift of sight”? I don’t remember her using it to drive the plot forward. Also, the switch to “Brice in the war” scenes served to pull me out of the story. I couldn’t really see the point unless it was to drive the novel forward in time and show Brice as a hardened but caring doctor (though I don’t think that needed war scenes – he’s a mountain doctor in 1812!).
Anyway, if you read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or if you’ve read Ms. Gabhart’s other novels, I’d love to hear about them.
And one more question from me: did the Shakers really call their dining room a “biting room”? I have never come across that terminology before, but I’m not an expert. As Alice would say: Curiouser and curiouser…