All Things New
post written by Esther Filbrun
Title: All Things New
Author: Lynn Austin
Major Themes: American Civil War, Reconstruction
Synopsis: With the war over, rebuilding their ruined livelihoods and lives isn’t easy—do they have the endurance to do it, and will they be able to find hope in the aftermath of such horror?
Having read two-thirds of Lynn Austin’s Refiner’s Fire series, I was quite intrigued when I saw All Things New, set during Reconstruction. I haven’t read much from that time period; the most notable would probably be Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor—an exceptionally eye-opening book, in my opinion, but that’s a topic for another time! I was quite interested to see what Austin would do with this book, because though I knew she’d likely follow her normal template for a story, I also knew I’d see a lot of history in the pages. And I did.
This book is told from three different points of view: An older woman who has been served by slaves all her life, her younger daughter, and one of their former slaves—and each is trying to find their way in the new world they find themselves in.
Now that the war is over, Eugenia Weatherly is determined to get everything back to the way it was before. Forget what the Yankees say; she knows what she and her family need, and she’s determined to get it. They will get their slaves back, one way or another.
Josephine, on the other hand, is fairly certain things will never be the same again. She’s tired of the war and violence, and is ready for peace to return, yes, but she doesn’t think it will be nearly as easy to rebuild as her mother is expecting it to be. Then, there’s the matter of whether she can really even trust the Lord. He didn’t answer her prayers during the war, instead, He allowed so much suffering and death…why should she trust or believe in a God that could ignore (or allow!) all of that?
Lizzy, a former slave, isn’t sure what to think of her new-found freedom. All she really wants is a safe place to live with her husband, where they can raise her family free of fear. Fear of being separated still runs deeply, and things haven’t necessarily gotten better since the end of the war. Can she hang onto an unyielding trust in the Lord, no matter what happens to her or her family?
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have such major social shifting as these people experienced. For some, used to living at the lowest of the low side of the social structure, suddenly being told that they were on level with the highest, it must have been tremendously thrilling—and frightening. And then for others, used to being in the aristocracy, suddenly told they were no higher in rank than their former slaves…what a change! And how frightening, in its own right!
There are so many things I could say about All Things New, but I think my favorite part was seeing how the history shone through the story here. This was an incredibly difficult time period, as so many different people were trying to find their feet again—or for the first time—and there were many different tensions that we can hardly imagine today. Of course, there was a romantic element in the story—that was to be expected—but even in that, there were lessons on faithfulness and encouraging others to look for hope in Jesus that I found precious. This book deals with some hard, hard topics. But I enjoyed it as a way to get a little bit more of a picture of history. It was also a good reminder of how we can encourage others to do what is right through our words and, more importantly, our actions. Recommended.
Top two quotes:
“He never will [move forward] as long as he remains bitter. Bitterness is one of the deadliest emotions we ever feel. You can’t look forward when you’re bitter, only backward—thinking about what you’ve lost, stuck in the past, despairing because it’s gone. In the end, it devours all hope.” —Alexander
“When we walk away from God, we walk away from any chance of joy. Joy doesn’t come from circumstances but from God.” —Alexander
WARNING: There is lying in ch. 1 and 17. There are several phrases used repeatedly throughout the story, with quite a few variations: “heaven’s name”, “good heavens”, etc. Instances are ch. 4, 15 (twice), 20, 21 (twice), 24, 25 (twice), 26, and 35. Someone curses (not explicitly) in ch. 13, and that is remembered in ch. 27. Different times, the war or other bad circumstances are pronounced to be hell in ch. 14, 20, and 35, and in ch. 24, a man describes some people who rescued him as “hell’s messengers”. The word “swear” is used in ch. 24, 32, 34, 35, and 36. The word “blazes” is used in ch. 33.
Someone threatens to use a pistol in ch. 1. A man remembers the war and watching people get badly hurt or killed in ch. 5, 14, and 20 (graphic). A mother is afraid of finding her son dead in ch. 8. There is a mention of a man not being able to have children because of his injuries in ch. 10. A group of men shoot over the heads of former slaves in ch. 12. A man tries to commit suicide in ch. 13 (pretty graphic), and the scene is remembered in ch. 27. A man talks about how he had to kill in the war in ch. 14 and 20. A mention is made of men who were badly beaten up or killed in ch. 20. A man talks about wanting to die in ch. 24. A woman is fearful for her daughter’s safety and thinks seriously about having to kill a man if he molests her daughter in ch. 26. Men plot to kill someone in ch. 29. A man hits a woman badly in ch. 33. Also in ch. 33, a woman tells how she was sweet talked and later raped as a girl—this instance is mentioned by other characters in ch. 35. Children are kidnapped in ch. 34. A man talks about going to hell for his sin in ch. 35.
A married couple kissing is mentioned in ch. 9 and 19. Pregnancy and morning sickness are talked about briefly in ch. 12. A man tries to sweet-talk and seduce a girl in ch. 16, 25, 26 (girl telling about it afterward), and 33. A woman notices the shape of her daughter’s growing body in ch. 16. Kissing and touching between an unmarried couple (girl not dressed “properly”) is remembered in ch. 21. Marital duties mentioned in ch. 21. A woman thinks about what men did to her as a girl in ch. 22 (not described). An unmarried couple touch in ch. 24, 27, 29, and 33. There is a dance in ch. 25. An unmarried couple kiss in ch. 29.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults
Links to buy All Things New:
AbeBooks: View Choices on AbeBooks.com
Book Depository: Paperback
Keywords: American Civil War, Reconstruction, History, Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, United States History, Civil War, US History 1865-1900, North America, Books for Women