So, ever since I’ve gotten Lizzy, I’ve been a little busy. Who knew one tiny, adorable hedgehog would be so much work?
Anyway, The Prayer Box was the September book club book (so I’m really behind—don’t judge me). Of the three books, this one was by far my favorite. Probably because it had more of a plot, and Lisa Wingate paints some beautiful prose.
Quick overview: This book is about a woman, Tandi, who takes her kids from her abusive husband and runs to Hatteras Island to start over, the last place she felt at home as a child (living briefly with her grandparents). We know that she had a problem with prescription drug abuse, hoisted on her by a “loving”—read here: abusive—husband, who also happened to be a doctor (and a criminal) before the story starts, and that she kicked that addiction in order to take care of her family. We know she’s poor and living in a guesthouse attached to a mansion on the island. We also know that sometime in the few weeks from the time she moved to the island to the beginning of the book, she picked up a boyfriend Ross (who the reader hates immediately).
So, that starts us at the beginning.
Iola dies. She’s the old woman who lives in the mansion and rents out the cottage to Tandi and her children. We never meet her alive, but we come to know her through the course of the book. Tandi’s hired to go through Iola’s things after she dies, and Tandi discovers 80 prayer boxes, one for each year of Iola’s life since she was a child. The more you learn about Iola, the more you come to love her, and the more her death hurts.
A few things about Iola, the woman behind the prayer boxes:
- She writes letters to God and places them in the prayer boxes.
- She was a mulatto growing up in the 1920s and 30 when Black people were still largely enslaved (though not in obvious ways). Her Dad was the son of a rich man and her Mom was a black servant of the household, so Iola was an embarrassment who was sent away to school throughout her child and teen years.
- She was beautiful and could pass for a white woman, which was problematic when a white man falls in love with her (and then gets her pregnant and abandons her after she tells him about her origins).
- She joins the military during World War II
- She inherits the mansion on Hatteras Island when her paternal grandfather’s son and granddaughter die young.
As Tandi reads about Iola’s life, she starts to shed the insecurities of her own life (and Ross as well) and begins to heal. She also becomes a part of the community in ways that she never would have imagined and does something for Iola that no one else can.
Lisa Wingate says some beautiful things about love…