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The Visionist

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  1,883 ratings  ·  354 reviews
An enthralling debut novel about a teenage girl who finds refuge--but perhaps not--in an 1840s Shaker community.

In this exquisite, transporting debut, 15-year-old Polly Kimball sets fire to the family farm, killing her abusive father. She and her young brother find shelter in a Massachusetts Shaker community called The City of Hope. It is the Era of Manifestations, when
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Little, Brown and Company (first published June 20th 2013)
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Barbara We’re left to wonder about several things - the status of the farm - where would the finance to rebuild and purchase tools come from? Could one female…moreWe’re left to wonder about several things - the status of the farm - where would the finance to rebuild and purchase tools come from? Could one female alone - May (until Polly recovers?) - make a living from it? Was Ben ever ‘recovered’? What happened to the now spiritually-disillusioned Charity? And do May and Polly end up with Trask and Pryor respectively? (less)

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Average rating 3.48  · 
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 ·  1,883 ratings  ·  354 reviews

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Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
this is a lovely and haunting novel that takes place in a shaker community in massachusetts in 1842. polly is a fifteen-year-old girl who has endured years of poverty and abuse at the hands of her father silas who has managed to drive their farm into the ground. her younger brother ben was left developmentally damaged after silas tried to drown him when ben was just a baby, and their mother is resigned to her lot, having been impregnated and tricked into marriage when she was only thirteen, ...more
This is another "Aw, shit" production!
I love Hachette.

So this wasn't the story for me.
I think all the things I was supposed to get from it, I missed. I got a lot of other things, instead.
The story is ok, though I never bought into it which is probably why I didn't enjoy it as much as others have. I think I was expecting more The Scarlet Letter and less melodrama.

For me, this was tale made of throwing the following into a blender and then hitting the FRAPPE! button:
 photo virgin-mary-wallpapers-1401_zps803be44f.jpg
who flees the
Diane S ☔
Apr 18, 2013 rated it liked it
In 1842, in a Shaker community in Massachusetts, Polly and her brother Ben are brought there by their mother, who then leaves. Polly and her family had suffered mightily at the hands of their abusive father.

I knew very little about this religion and the novel does a wonderful job describing their beliefs, (men and woman live apart, no carnal knowledge allowed)their clothing, their food and the jobs they do to keep the community running. Sister Charity is the one assigned to show and teach Polly
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
I've finally finished. Most people will know I've struggled through this one. I'm not sure why the story itself was ok. It was very descriptive which I do tend to like but it on this occasion I found it distracting from the story and also the issues such as sin, forgiveness, which weren't deeply explored. Starting from a point of knowing the story before the investigator trying to uncover it was frustrating and I struggled to warn to any of the characters.
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shakers, the Shaking Quakers (because of their ecstatic behavior during worship services), a lesser known branch off, though very intriguing as far as religious sects go. Nearly cult like in its aspects...denying family bonds, taking over all material possessions, seclusion from the world. From the downright silly (cutting food into squares instead of triangles, bowlcuts for men) to WTF (no inside pets) to downright self exterminating (no sex), this wasn't a situation build to last. And in fact ...more
Feb 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In the 1990's my husband, a real estate broker, took me to a location in rural Massachusetts that had been a Shaker community. It was on a beautiful landscape of rolling hills and stream with a vast expanse of sky. The property was on the market for such a reasonable price I was shocked. The buildings left were stark and eerie in their vastness and simplicity. There was a barn and a main building. A lone sheep made its way across a narrow stream. We went into the "main" building made of ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Rachel Urquhart’s beautifully written debut novel is set in 1842 in a Massachusetts Shaker community called the City of Hope. The story is told through the eyes of its three main characters.

Polly is a fifteen year old girl who has fled a life of abuse and degradation. She finds refuge, acceptance, and friendship in the Shaker community.

Sister Charity is a devoted Shaker who has lived in the City of Hope since she was left there as a baby. Her unfailing faith, and her friendship with Polly are
Jane Ciabattari
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Reminds me what a joy it is to read a GOOD first novel! Here's my review for NPR:
Bree T
Polly Kimball has had a difficult childhood. An abusive, alcoholic father, a tired mother and a young brother who is her responsibility. Just once she took her eyes off him and went to complete a chore and it nearly ended in tragedy. With the very real fear that her father might kill them to take her mother’s family farm, Polly sets fire to the cottage and she, her mother and her younger brother flee, leaving her father to burn.

Polly’s mother takes them to the City of Hope, a Shaker religious
Oct 01, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This debut novel is so well written, and I was totally captivated with the characters and the story. Set in 1842, the story revolves around a young teenage girl and her family after she and her much younger brother are taken to a Shaker community for refuge and safety. The family is in crisis, and Polly, the young girl, is especially troubled, torn between the goodness she finds in many ways in this Shaker village, the repression she also feels in this place, and anxiety over her mother and the ...more
Jan 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book has some clear villains. And clear innocents. And reluctant heroes. Each with their own motivation and perspective. At its heart, this is actually a story of love and intrigue woven into a Shaker community in Massachusetts. It takes a few chapters to get the characters in motion, but by the end the story has plenty of momentum. And the ending is a satisfying one. A strong sense of place and believable characters. It doesn't take much more than that to spin a good yarn.
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I expected to be put off by Urquhat’s portrayal of the Shakers during the Era of Manifestations, but in general she did a good job with the scenes set in a fictional Shaker village. The the main plot, however, about characters scheming to grab land, was awkward, repetitive,and uninteresting.

Urquhat's portrait of the Shaker Eldress was complex and insightful: not only did she see into the souls of her charges, but she was a pragmatist who believed it was her religious duty to increase the
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it
This novel is set in a unique setting. Charity, an adolescent girl, has spent her entire life in a New England Shaker community. With little knowledge of the world beyond that utopian compound, she is developing into the ideal Shaker. Polly arrives at that Shaker community with her baby brother, fleeing a life time of brutal abuse and molestation at the hands of her alcoholic father, abuse that is escalating into the real threat of murder. Being Charity’s first peer, they become close friends ...more
Dec 06, 2013 rated it liked it
This book receives a 3.5 rating from me. I received this book as a first reads give-a-way. As a historian, I was very interested in the way in which a fictional account would portray the Shakers. Urquhart's presents the reader with an intriguing story, though it is quite slow to start. Admittedly, there were some parts of the story that are difficult to follow. I also feel that the reader would have benefited from an author's note or afterword that explained a bit more about the Shaker culture ...more
Dec 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
I received this book for free as a Goodreads giveaway! I didn't know anything about Shakers before reading this novel. Except maybe the furniture. So I was a bit apprehensive about it, would it be contemporary enough to keep my interest? Absolutely. The story of young Polly who is given away to a Shaker community after a family tragedy could easily be a modern tale. I loved how the 3 main characters each took alternating chapters to tell their side of the story. The author really knew the ...more
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ultimately, there is redemption, and justice. But only for some.

Really haunting, but a wholly unsatisfying ending. I suppose that's life, though. It doesn't resolve in a neat package. It fits and starts, breaks and mends.

And yes, this is babbly, because others have done just fine in recapping the story in their reviews and I don't need to repeat that work. I'm also unsure how to compartmentalize my feelings about this haunting, sad story that ends with uplifted, vague hope.

Truly a unique and
Kelly Furniss
This book was chosen by one of my book clubs. Told in alternating chapters by three main characters the story unravels but yet there is an element of mystery that is suspended. Learning about the Shaker community was the part of this book I enjoyed the most as I found it so informative but the general pace of the story was quite slow. I would like to see how this author develops though and would read other books she releases.
Mar 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
Skipped to the end and no. Just no. I'm not subjecting myself to finishing this book. Maybe I'm overly tired, maybe I'm being overly judgmental, but this book is horrid. The language is stilted, the plot sounded great, but the characters have more issues than those in a soap opera and the ending was just sad. Not for me.
aPriL does feral sometimes
'The Visionist' is an excellent read. It has strong literary elements, but they are unobtrusive and take a back seat to the action. This book is an exciting thriller and it was difficult to put down when I needed to attend to my real life. The story is dark, so I wouldn't recommend it for those looking for a fun or sweet book. I do not think it a religious believer's novel, but it respectfully describes the life of the Shakers, an offshoot of the Quaker religion. The writing is absolutely ...more
Juli Rahel
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I requested this book because of its fascinating synopsis. On the one hand it was giving me a bit of a The Scarlet Letter vibe, while also feeling slightly fantastical. In the end, this book was nothing I expected and yet gave me everything I could've asked of it.

The plot is one that jumps between different narrators. We switch between the same three characters and through that the reader gets different insights into the story, which was a great choice on the part of Urquhart because when an
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
The characters were so well-developed and enchanting. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I wish there was more complexity and things didn't wrap up so neatly in the end.
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Visionist is set in the City of Hope, a Shaker community in Massachusetts in 1842. Fifteen-year old Polly and her brother are hidden in the City of Hope by their mother after a fire destroyed their farm and killed their father. While her brother Benjamin accepts their new situation, Polly struggles to adjust to the different way of life, inio part because of the secrets she carries with her. While being viewed with suspicion at first, she is soon hailed as a "visionist", which brings even ...more
Jan 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Actually, I'd like to give this book 3.5 stars...or maybe even 3.75. More about why I didn't, later. I was aware of the Shakers, but not much beyond the fact that they made great furniture, lived sparsely and believed that sex was filthy...therefore, men and women were never together...therefore, there are no more Shakers. This book filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge.

Reading this book left me feeling a little like I'd been peeking in someone's windows - the inner workings of The City of
Jee Koh
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read it over Christmas, an appropriate time for reading about the mysteries of faith, sin, and redemption. The Shaker settlement and the outside World of mid-19th century Massachusetts are both meticulously and convincingly brought to life. The novel is narrated through three points of view. Sister Charity of the City of Hope and Simon Pryor from the World both speak in the first person, as they struggle to understand the throes of events around them. Sister Charity, the self-deceiving ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
In this meticulous debut novel, Polly Kimball sets fire to her home, killing her father, in order to escape his abuse. She finds shelter in a Shaker community not yet blessed with a Visionist during the Era of Manifestations, as extraordinary visions were sweeping across Shaker communities in the Northeast. Shortly after arriving in the City of Hope, Polly shocks her new refuge by demonstrating that she, in actuality, is a Visionist.

But Polly harbors secrets and well as mysticism, and the two
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, own, historical
I guess I was expecting a slightly different story than what I ended up with. This book is probably most interesting and notable for its setting in a Shaker settlement, but I think I was expecting more of a mystery than what was presented. Also, the Polly as Visionist story actually didn't seem as developed as it should have been. However, I liked the alternating viewpoints, though I felt like Elder Sister Agnes' character was not terribly consistent. I feel a bit ambivalent about the end, as ...more
May 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a story that affected me in a big way. It is so curious to see the inner workings of an organization (read: an occult) and how it works/molds its believers into following. It really makes you think how a bleak situation makes you turn to anything to help you survive. Fascinating read.
Amy M
Feb 10, 2014 rated it liked it
This book started off interesting, but then lost me in the middle. I felt for Polly, and actually for most of the characters in this novel, but it didn't hook me back in. I liked the ending, but overall felt the book was a 3-3.5.
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Rachel Urquhart is a former writer and editor at Spy, Vogue, and Allure magazines. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Tin House, Elle, GQ, Harper's Bazaar, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, and Vanity Fair. She received her MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.
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“The cruelty and brutishness of men is, on occasion, more than I can bear to witness.” 0 likes
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