shakeress

The Shakeress

Kimberley Heuston

In the mid-1800s, a young Shakeress searches for her true self.

She knew what it was like to feel all full up with something that hadn’t bloomed yet.

AFTER twelve-year-old Naomi loses her parents in a fire and learns of her aunt’s plan to send her to work in a mill, she and her siblings seek refuge in a Shaker village. Because Naomi has some knowledge of herbs and doctoring from her mother, the Shakers assign her to an apprenticeship with the village herbalist in order to develop her skills as a healer.

As Naomi matures, she senses that something big is missing in her life, but she doesn’t know what it is. At sixteen she leaves the Shakers to go out into the world. Eventually she establishes a career as an herbalist within a community that offers comfort and security. But that, too, fails to satisfy her growing need for something more. When she meets Joseph Fairbanks, she thinks that perhaps she has found what she was seeking.

The Shakeress is the story of a young woman’s quest for spiritual fulfillment in the raw and exciting world of early nineteenth-century America


  • Ages: 12 - 17
  • Grades: 8 - 12
  • Pages: 208

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Recent Reviews

A poor orphan searches for her way in the world, with the help of plucky comrades and her own stout spirit. As she reaches self-knowledge, the handsome heir of a wealthy family sees past her humble garb to ask for her work-stained hand in marriage. Sound like a fairy tale? Kimberley Heuston's thoughtful and ambitious novel The Shakeress doesn't end there. True love is not the answer for Naomi, the confident heroine of the title. The book's climax comes not with the lover on his knees in love, but with Naomi on her knees in prayer. … As an independent, self-reliant teenage girl, Naomi provides a model for any quickly maturing questioner, even those who don't share her questions. Her quest is recognizable and welcoming. Tolerance for God-related musing and a God-inspired ending are, however, necessary equipment for this journey.

—New York Times Book Review

An original, intelligent, thought-provoking first novel … It's as if Emma had thrown over Mr. Knightly in order to become an Anabaptist. Yet Jane Austen might well have admired Heuston's wit —and her willingness to defy conventional expectations, literary or otherwise.

—Washington Post Book World

Fascinating views of Shakers and other religious movements in the 1820s and '30s.

—Publishers Weekly

An unusual coming-of-age novel, both for its subject and its focus. … What is noteworthy about this story is the intensity with which it treats spiritual questions; the place of prayer; the path to faith; the meaning and mystery of the divine. Along with trying to find out what she wants to be when she grows up and whom she will love, Naomi longs for spiritual nourishment in a direct and unaffected way. … Engaging as historical fiction and for the honest way it approaches belief.

—Kirkus Reviews

An introspective story that will attract readers seeking their own spiritual path.

—Booklist

There is a historical basis for this quiet and absorbing novel, set during the spiritual revival of the ‘Second Great Awakening.' It paints an intriguing picture of the Shaker experience and the universal quest for a meaningful life.

—Seatle Times and Post-Intelligencer

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Honors for The Shakeress

  • Books for the Teen Age—New York Public Library
  • 2003 Honorable Mention in Young Adult Literature Association of Mormon Letters
  • 2003 Top 10 Kids Books—The Washington Post 2002

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