Christmas Bells: A Novel by Jennifer Chiaverini
Dutton, 2015. Hardcover, 317 pages.
Chiaverini’s latest Civil War-themed novel is a perfect fit for the holiday season. It reminds readers of the magic of the Christmas season with one storyline while telling the story behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem “Christmas Bells” in another.
The novel opens with the modern storyline. In this chapter, readers are introduced to Sophia, a children’s choir director, and her struggle. Successive alternating chapters tells the stories of the other main modern characters at the same point of time, including Lucas, her accompanist; two of her students and their mother; a priest; a nun; and a recent widow. Each story masterfully intersects with the others to form a complete whole and demonstrates how working together, especially in times of need or hardship, can help to create holiday magic. This point of intersection between the characters ties directly into the historical storyline because Longfellow’s poem set to music is one of the choir’s pieces featured in each of those chapters.
In the historical storyline, readers will learn of Longfellow’s family struggles starting with the Christmas before the Civil War began when fear of war loomed. It goes on to cover his most personal loss and his recovery from that thanks to his children. By mid-war, Longfellow struggles to keep his eldest son, Charley, from entering the fray. When this proves impossible, Longfellow must come to terms with his feelings (readers will also learn about Charley’s actions and their consequences). When disaster strikes again, Longfellow must brace himself and, again, his family assists him. Throughout, he struggles for inspiration to write again until the day he hears the cathedral bells chiming on Christmas Eve.
This heartwarming novel will warm any soul. The themes of family, struggles, and loss are relatable to all, regardless of religion. Chaiverini imbued her characters with real feelings that force one to emphasize. It is also a quick read for its 317 pages, mainly for the flowing writing style and the page-turning need to know what will happen next.
Do you think you will read this novel to celebrate the holiday season? If so or if you already have, please share your thoughts.