By Cheryl Magness
Three years ago Concordia Publishing House released the first book in the Anthems of Zion trilogy by author Katie Schuermann. As I was already a fan of Schuermann’s non-fiction writing, I was excited to experience her debut novel, House of Living Stones. I downloaded and read the first chapter and decided I couldn't go on. Having recently come off a traumatic church experience, one that impacted not only me but my whole family, I was still struggling with seeing church as a safe place. As for church people, I had frankly had enough of them. I set the book aside.
Fast forward two years to The Choir Immortal, the second book in the Zion series. Knowing the author and her writing skill, and seeing the testimonials of others, I still wanted to read Schuermann’s books. So I tried again, reading both books in quick succession, and this time I found myself falling in love: with Mrs. Scheinberg, with Blaine, with Candice and Evan and Beverly and Curt, and yes, with Emily Duke and Rev. Fletcher. Certainly, it was partly the passage of time and the fading of old hurts that allowed me to immerse myself in the world of Bradbury without feeling anxious. But it was also the pen of Mrs. Schuermann that did so. It was clear how much she loved these silly, hapless, sinful creatures: how could I not?
With The Harvest Raise, Katie Schuermann has seemingly wrapped up her Anthems of Zion trilogy. But has she? In my mind, and I daresay in the minds of the author and her many readers, the story of the people of Zion-Bradbury is ongoing. While several of the series storylines achieve resolution, others do not, at least not in the way we might have hoped. But it is the lack of a nice, neat happy ending for everyone involved that lends Schuermann's trilogy much of its power. The Christian life is not a nice, neat thing. If you are like me, it seems no sooner has one problem or situation been resolved than another comes along to stir everything back up again. Is there never any rest? The words of Jesus come to mind: "In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Like the first two books in the series, The Harvest Raise has its share of tribulation. But it also has plenty of Jesus.
Schuermann's writing style is one that makes her characters come to life like figures on a movie screen. Her descriptive skills are formidable, painting word pictures through the use of striking images, vivid metaphors and original similes. Some of my favorite scenes are those involving Mrs. Scheinberg and Candice Bradbury. When Mrs. Scheinberg is surprised by a moment of unexpected warmth towards Candice, the "feelings of goodwill billow[ed] around her heart and set sail down her arm." When Mrs. Scheinberg decides with Candice's help to start a workout program . . . well, let's just say hilarity ensues.
The Harvest Raise has it all: humor, heartache, disaster, joy, love, sin, and redemption. In the people of Zion-Bradbury we find reflections of both the best and the worst of our very own selves. I am reminded of the pastor who first catechized me into the Lutheran faith. He told me that when God looks at me as His baptized child, He looks through the lens of His Son on the cross and pronounces me "poifect." It is through the lens of the cross that Katie Schuermann looks at her characters, inviting us to come alongside and love them just as much as she does. I am so glad I finally accepted that invitation. Thank you, Katie, for helping me love church people again.
The Harvest Raise is due to be released next month and is now available for pre-order at Concordia Publishing House.
Cheryl is the sister of ten, daughter of two, mother of three, and wife of one. She was an English teacher in a past life but these days freelances as a writer and musician. She blogs at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale and has also been published by The Federalist, American Thinker, OnFaith, and Touchstone magazine. Cheryl lives in Oklahoma with her husband, a Lutheran cantor, and their three children.