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Book Review: The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society by Beth Pattillo

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It has been a long time since I’ve read a book of this size in less than 24 hours. However, that is what happened when I received Beth Pattillo’s The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society in the mail. Pattillo is a talented author who can sweep her readers into the story rapidly, and keep them engrossed until the end. I was looking forward to receiving this tale of a group of women who integrate their knitting, reading interests, personal lives, and faith. The story, compellingly written, succeeds with the first three, but comes short on the fourth.

We are introduced to a cast of six main female characters and the complexities of their personal lives and struggles. I doubted that I would be able to follow each character and come to know her personally; Patillo’s strong characterizations put these doubts to rest. I came to know each of the five adult females and the single teenager as they came together on a monthly basis to share their thoughts on the group knitting project and reading assignment of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society. In the beginning, none of these characters know each other well, or care for the emotional needs of others. They know each other only superficially; it is heartwarming to watch them come to care for each other, reaching out in love and support as they are drawn closer by the introduction of troubled teenager Hannah into their midst.

For those who prefer a strong faith element in their fiction reading, they will not find it here. Though some of the characters profess faith in God and are involved in church activities, we rarely see this faith played out or expressed in their lives. Each character experiences dramatic personal difficulties in their lives over the course of the book, but none lean upon Jesus, or turn to the Bible for advice, guidance or support during these trials. Rather they muddle through under their own power, barely managing to pull themselves out of blatantly sinful situations, somehow avoiding endings that are displeasing to the Lord. No doubt God manages all this in His sovereignty, but it takes place behind the scenes. We are unable to see His work in the lives of His children throughout the novel.

I felt as though I was watching a soap opera – intense, dramatic and life-changing events were occurring in each characters life in the small town of Sweetgum. At times I also felt myself to be an observer of a tragic accident in progress – unable to look away despite the gory details and my inability to help. As a Christian, I kept wondering how those who professed faith could behave in the way they were; why were they not praying, turning to scripture for guidance, relying on the Lord for strength and resolve? Were they all nominal Christians?

Despite this disappointment I was dragged along by the rapid paced and emotionally involving storyline – Pattillo has mastered the art of emotionally engaging her readers. The extent to which the women come to know and care for each other as they each struggle with their own personal trials is an encouragement to let down our guard, permitting others to know and care for us. The pain and complications isolation cause are clearly portrayed through each woman’s emotional anguish.

Knitters will enjoy the familiar terminology and discussion of knitting projects that is woven effortlessly throughout the story. I found myself chuckling at the descriptions of the common "too tight" beginners efforts (which I have committed myself). These descriptions are easy for non-knitters to read as they are blended into the storyline. For those who haven’t yet discovered the joy of knitting a simple pattern is included in the book as well.

Intense and personally involving, readers who enjoy tales of female friendship without requiring a strong faith element will find The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society a rewarding read. Devotees can look forward to a new Sweetgum novel in 2009.

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