The events of Monica West’s debut novel, Revival Season, are a far cry from my own world in terms of cultural and religious experiences. But this propulsive story, narrated by a strong, young voice, is one of the most memorable and moving novels I have read in recent months. It’s the tale of a 15-year-old girl, Miriam Horton, whose preacher father travels to evangelical Christian communities around the South, and the summer that Miriam discovers her own gift of healing.
On their annual summertime tour of the South, Miriam and her family map a road trip from one revival to the next, where her father heals the ill and infirm. Miriam’s faith in her father has been shaken after an incident she witnessed the summer before, and she privately wants to believe in him and his abilities again.
Through Miriam’s narration, we see the ways that religion, belief and a deep connection to family guide her, as well as the ways that doubt disturbs her. She is highly observant, noticing details about the language of prayer, her father’s behavior and where holy oil comes from. In her attempts to help family and friends, Miriam asks questions and is surprised and intrigued by the answers she discovers. As she learns that she, too, might be able to heal those who suffer, she finds herself butting against the gendered limitations of the church.
Readers will root for Miriam as she finds her sense of self. She’s a fascinating character, and her transformation over the course of the story is impressive, especially as violence upends and reverberates throughout her world.
The plot and characters of Revival Season are remarkably well rendered, but West’s language is especially compelling, pulling readers into Miriam’s most defining moments. The sentences are downright musical, and each chapter paints a picture, leaving the reader eager for all that awaits.