Jane's Reviews > The Oak Leaves

The Oak Leaves by Maureen Lang
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's review
May 17, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, on-kindle
Read from May 18 to 20, 2012

Where I got the book: free on Kindle at publisher's discretion. Maureen is a friend in real life.

This inspirational novel has an alternating-chapter two-story structure, the linking factor being the genetic ties between the two female protagonists, Talie in the modern day and Cosima in the 19th century. But in this novel genetics don't just mean familial ties; the Fragile X gene runs through the two women's family giving rise to cognitively disabled children.

This setup would be bound to get me interested from the start, since I too have a child affected by a genetic disorder that causes a cognitive disability--although in our case there's been a "random mutation" rather than a hereditary disorder. The parallel structure of the novel allows the reader to explore changing attitudes toward disability and timeless questions of faith within a story that manages not to lay any of its themes down with too heavy a hand. It's definitely a Christian novel--I've noted that some reviewers found the Christian slant hard to deal with--but to anyone who is at all familiar with or receptive to the Christian faith, there are some thought-provoking insights into the nature of love and trust.

I found myself more drawn, at first, to the modern story because I identified with the characters' fear and confusion as they realize that a happy little boy is simply not progressing, intellectually speaking, beyond babyhood. I was nodding my head--oh yes, been there done that--at so many of the steps through denial, anger, grief and acceptance as they gradually grasp that the unthinkable has in fact happened to them. (Until it does happen, disabled children are generally on the periphery of your awareness!) It rang true because it's written from experience, although I wish I'd had the faith perspective back then.

The 19th-century story grew on me gradually; it came across as less real to me partly because it's a fairly straightforward romance plot, partly because it's set among the aristocracy and it's difficult to pull that world off on paper unless you're personally pretty familiar with it. Forms of address often give the writer away, and if anyone has a solid reference for writers about the nuances of class in British society, please speak up. In this instance the high-society setting had a point, because to a family expected to produce leaders of the country a less-than-able heir would be a considerable problem (although, from what I've read in and in between the lines, because of inbreeding it happened far more often than advertised). After a bit I warmed to this story line, mainly because Peter, the hero, was very nicely rounded out as a character with a lot more going for him than just being the inevitable broad-shouldered hunk. Also, Cosima's dilemma--revealing a genetic disorder that in those days was seen as a curse or stigma--was pretty interesting as far as obstacles to true love go. The one character who really didn't work for me was the rotter Reginald, Cosima's sort-of fiancé; I had the worst time understanding his motives and at one point found myself wondering whether he had a gay crush on Peter. I was wrong, of course; not that kind of novel.

All in all I found The Oak Leaves to be quite a page-turner and a whole lot more substantial than many inspirational romances, hence the four stars.
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Reading Progress

05/18/2012 "A review of my Kindle has turned up over 70 unread books (Misfit!) and several I've been meaning to read but had lost track of. The Oak Leaves and its sequel On Sparrow Hill are two of them, by my friend IRL Maureen Lang. I love books that tackle disability, and the story of the Fragile X genetic disorder woven into these should be fascinating."
42.0% "I find (for once) that I'm much more interested in the modern story than the historical romance. Hearing Talie being reassured that her child is "not far behind the normal range" brings back poignant memories."
58.0% "I would like to see more exploration of the idea that fossils are evidence of God's love for us. Not quite sure how we're getting there (although the idea of God hiding cool stuff for us to find is fun)."
05/19/2012 page 61
15.0% "I do have a problem with Cosima saying "milord" to Peter. That's what a servant would say. Cosima's his social equal & should call him Lord Peter."
63.0% "I can't help thinking Reginald has a gay crush on Peter. In a Christian novel???" 1 comment
65.0% ""He's here as the smile of God, I believe, because he has one for everyone.""

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