Friday, January 4, 2008

"Emily's Hope", by Ellen Gable

“Emily’s Hope” by Ellen Gable is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman, Emily, who, in the course of doing a genealogical high school project, discovers the spotty life history of her great-grandmother, Katharine. Her curiosity continues as she explores the family albums into her forties.

During my reading of the first few chapters I feared the novel would be overly preachy. However, it is soon revealed that the physically innocent Emily is in her heart no saint, and has only remained a virgin for lack of opportunity. She falls prey to the liberal attitudes of the 1970s regarding premarital sex, contraception, and abortion, believing all the above are up to the individual and not harmful to society. As she embarks on her first romantic experiences, I found myself in suspense, hoping that she would still keep herself for marriage.

Emily has the great fortune of falling in love with a spiritual young man who lovingly convinces her that they should wait for marriage and practice Natural Family Planning. The book takes the reader through a long and difficult long-distance courtship and one hopes the young lovers will be able to continue practicing self-restraint. Do they or don’t they? That is part of the page-turning drama, which I will not spoil for the reader.

The chapters alternate between the stories of Emily and Katharine. Katharine does not present as a likable character. Cold, adulterous, and multi-abortive, one wonders what she could possibly have in common with the warm and thoughtful young Emily. Emily discovers with shock that the “BPO-Midwife” entries in her great-grandmother’s ledger refer to a turn-of-the-century practice among midwives of “bringing on the period” by abortion.

As Katharine begins to age, the reader is able to view her choices with more sympathy in light of the circumstances of her life. Emily does not condemn her ancestress, but forgives her poor choices and prays that she has received grace enough to enjoy the afterlife with her Maker.

The stories of both women show how intricately tied together with spiritual well-being is the way in which we use the gift of sexuality that God has given us. Emily and her husband demonstrate that with Natural Family Planning comes love and joy in its fullest. Several quotes from Papal Encyclicals may lead the reader to explore the original texts for themselves. Included at the end of the book are prayers and references that give hope to those who wish to renew their purity, who have had an abortion, or who have suffered a miscarriage.

As a subheading underneath each chapter number is a reference to a scripture, which the author leaves to the reader to look up for oneself. I must confess that, during my initial reading of the book, I was too curious to find out what happens next to the characters to stop and pick up my Bible. However, upon completing the book I looked up each reference and found that each one was carefully picked in a way that would set the tone of each chapter. I wish now that I had kept my Bible by my side while reading the novel through the first time.

There are some mildly descriptive scenes in which both Emily and Katharine miscarry due to tubal pregnancies. The purposes of these sections are not for shock value, but rather to convey the emotional effects on each of the women. Also portrayed are a few near-death experiences as well as a young woman who dies due to an abortive attempt. For this reason, I would not recommend this book for the young, innocent teen. However, lest I scare off the more mature but squeamish reader (as I would describe myself), I will say these scenes are depicted delicately, with much sympathy toward the victims of these tragedies.

Heartbreakingly, Emily and Jay lose six children due to tubal pregnancies and miscarriages. However, they do have at least five sons and hope for more. One of the scripture references is one that I think summarizes the tone and purpose of the book. “But not only that - we even boast of our afflictions! We know that affliction makes for endurance, and endurance for tested virtue, and tested virtue for hope. And this hope will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, NAB)

I can see this text as being highly valuable in preparation for marriage. I would recommend reading it together with older teens as part of the discussions of courtship and how best to respect and enjoy God’s gift of sexuality in the context of marriage. Also for older couples who may find something lacking in their relationship, this book may convince them that Natural Family Planning could result in their experiencing marriage in the fullness and joy intended by God.

For more information or to order a copy of the book, go to Full Quiver Publishing ( or write to:
Full Quiver Publishing
P.O. Box 244
Pakenham, Ontario KoA 2Xo
You may email the author at:

This review has also been posted at a new blog:
"Catholic Media Review:
Shining the Light of Christ on Everything the Media Does"


Lisa Mladinich said...

Excellent review. My two cents: This is an extraordinarily fine book. A first novel, it is not slick fare. But the Holy Spirit is strongly in evidence in the effect that it has upon one's heart and mind while reading it. I thought the chapters concerning Emily's grandmother were especially well done. The climax of the novel is very moving and unforgettable. Great reading for teens on up.

Mrs. Joan Fong said...

That was a great review and summarises the book pretty well. I liked in particular this profound statement you made:

"The stories of both women show how intricately tied together with
spiritual well-being is the way in which we use the gift of sexuality
that God has given us."

You've hit the nail on the head. One cannot be practising a lifestyle which is not of the Church's teachings (i.e. which is what God wants as expressed and taught by His Church) and experience any happiness and deep contentment and peace, judging by who you know who are not of a like mind.

And Ellen's book tells all these things pretty well. This is another book that I desperately want to give to people to put their knowledge in the enlightened state regarding the Church's stand on sexual morality.

Loren Christie said...

Great review. What an interesting book!