For fans of the gentle read, novelist Leisha Kelly’s series about the Wortham family has been a good fit: faith-filled and inspiring. The same readers of her earlier novels (JULIA’S HOPE, EMMA’S GIFT) should appreciate revisiting the same characters and storyline in TILL MORNING IS NIGH: A Wortham Family Christmas novella.
The plot is simple. The Great Depression is still in full swing in Illinois, and the Wortham family continues to plug along in desperate straights. Now, in addition to their own small family, Samuel and Julia take in the 10 hungry Hammond children. Many are sick with a mysterious illness, and their widowed father has disappeared, presumably on a drunken binge. It’s been a year since the Hammond children lost their mother and the Worthams lost Emma, their dearest friend and benefactress. Christmas is coming, and these two losses color everyone’s holiday.
As portrayed in the first two books in the series, Julia Wortham is the saintly mother who seems to be able to take on whatever life throws her way, only occasionally giving vent to her exhaustion and emotions (usually no more than “bursting into tears.”) She can stretch her meager supplies into miracles, from cookies to dumplings to fruit bread. Others from their church help supplement the family’s empty cupboard, arriving with pies and turkey at the right moment. Recipes are included at the end of the book.
Kelly stretches the very thin plot over 160 pages, which results in a sweet but extremely slow-paced novel. Most of the action centers on Julia entertaining her large and unruly brood by having them craft a nativity set out of paper as a distraction from their losses and illnesses. It’s an agreeable plotline for the holidays, especially the slow progress of the figures to the stable. Although strung out over too many pages, it does help glue the narrative together. A nice touch is the baby Jesus figure, which mysteriously shows up in the bed or shoe of the person who seems in most need of comfort.
The circumstances of the family and their extended brood become repetitious in places (Katie is crying again?). Of the characters, perhaps the most interesting is Rorey, who vents her anger about her circumstances in a number of believable ways. Julia, on the other hand, is almost unbelievably patient with Rorey, but her insightfulness about what makes Rorey so difficult will inspire readers who have problem children in their lives. Two of the youngsters --- the crippled Franky (one can’t help but think of Tiny Tim) and the burdened Lizbeth, a teen who tries to care for her large band of siblings while keeping up with school --- will particularly endear themselves to readers.
If you aren’t familiar with the earlier books, you’ll want to start with JULIA’S HOPE. Although TILL MORNING IS NIGH might be read as a stand-alone, you’ll enjoy it more for reading the books that explain the background leading up to this novella.
For fans of the gentle read, the ending will be more than satisfactory: inspirational, happy and --- although a few loose ends still dangle --- conclusive. The power of God to provide in all circumstances, the generosity of those who have little but give much, and the true meaning of Christmas are all wrapped together in a novella that will inspire readers to find gratitude and joy in their own Christmas celebrations.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 1, 2007