From the Publisher
Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira have joined together to write a compelling story of civil rights, racial equality, and coming of age in 1954 Maine. Mercy Millar lives on a farm where she helps with all the farm chores. In fact, her father calls her the "son he never had." Her father often hires Maliseets (the local Native-American tribe) to help with farm work and pays them well for their work. One of the Maliseets is Mick, who is in love with Mercy. This is their story as told by Mercy to her granddaughter Laurel.
An assortment of townspeople round out the story as it unfolds. Mercy's best friend Molly Carmichael has a sister who has run away with a Maliseet, and this makes Molly's father hate the Maliseets to the point that he seeks revenge by falsely accusing Mick of murder. Mercy's father calls his attorney-brother to come and help Mick out, but it takes two weeks for the whole episode to straighten itself out. In the meantime, Hurricane Edna hits the town, and Mick's brother pulls Molly's father out of his store when he becomes trapped.
There are so many intricate points to the plot of this book that they keep the reader involved LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG after bedtime. These two authors have collaborated to bring about a book that will not leave readers after they finish it. This book fits in a class with Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird.
You can find an interview with the authors here.
Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and farm fresh produce. I cannot recommend this book enough. No reader will regret it.
-Becky Guinn, August 22, 2013
Shades of Mercy by Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira is set in the 1950's on a farm in Maine, three topics I love to read about. It's not another fluffy romance, but rather digs deep into the racial tensions of the townspeople and the Indian Tribe of the Maliseets.
The book flowed along perfectly. The Christian slant to this book flows nicely as well, without being preachy at all except for a chapter in the middle. The romance aspect of the book actually seemed realistic, unlike most romance books. A few things didn't quite add up for me, such as the town's people not liking the Maliseets at all and yet loving the food of a new chef in town, who had a Maliseet working in the kitchen, but I often find little things in books like that which bother me so it isn't held against this book.
I must admit, I read half the book the very day I received it and grabbed moments throughout the next day in order to find out how the book ended. It kept my attention the whole time and I enjoyed the characters. The ending leaves me wondering if this will be the first book in a series as it did end a bit abruptly.
-Elizabeth, November 29, 2013, www.trenchesofmommyhood.blogspot.com
Not many of us think about racial tension and inequality in generations so recent we can still touch the lines upon their faces; some of them haven’t even grayed. Shades of Mercy, by Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira, sheds light upon those obscured years.
Set in the 1950s, Shades of Mercy, is a refreshingly sweet romance, grounded in the gritty truth of harsh farm life in rural Maine. Fifteen-year-old, Mercy, is of well respected stock, working diligently as the “son her father never had”, on their successful farm in Watsonville, Maine. Her family loves her and her parents are devout Christians raising their daughter to have strong biblical morals, and especially to have a respect for all human life, no matter what their race. So it’s only a minor problem that she’s fallen in love with Mick, a young Maliseet Indian. At least, it’s only a minor problem in Mercy’s imagination.
Shadesof Mercy is a touching story...
-Abby Kelly, December 17, 2013, www.predatory-lies.com
The critical crisis in Shades of Mercy revolves around deeply rooted racial injustices, prejudices and tensions between whites and American Indians. Here is where the book shines. More Maliseet characters walk onto the stage, and you get a glimpse into their lives, the injustices they’ve suffered for generations, the unhealthy way they’ve responded. You see the town’s people marginalize them farther afield.
I particularly liked one description of prayer, as explained by Mercy’s mom to Mercy’s friend, Molly Carmichael. “I just took the words that were pent up in my heart and spilled them out into the ear of God. You know any of us can do that. He is always waiting for us to be with Him.” That line right there made me glad to have read Shades of Mercy..
-Evelyn Bence, December 18, 2013, www.bookreporter.com
Shades of Mercy resounded with me. As a Chinese-American, I felt the racism and the prejudices of being different as a child. I don't remember as clearly, but in second grade, the teacher turned the whole class against me. She couldn't stand that I was different from her. She treated me like an outsider, and so did the whole class.
When I read that Mick and the Masileet tribe was under the same prejudices, I just felt for them. In some parts of the country, like South Carolina, there are still prejudices against people with different skin colors other than the superior white skin.
I liked how Mercy and her family treated the Masileets with respect and dignity, even though no one else thought to. They showed everyone mercy and compassion and that's how God's glory can shine through us.
-Rhyan Wong, January 1, 2014, www.creazian.blogspot.com
A good book, and as good as I had hoped it would be. It’s about the conflict between the whites and the Indians in Maine – I had no idea they had this kind of tension there in the 1950s! This book provided a fascinating look at some complicated situations that seemed true to life. It’s a growing up story about a young girl of 16 and her Indian boyfriend. The book was full of good writing, and had an excellent story – I would read more, either in this series or by these authors. I especially loved the description of a food pantry in Mercy’s house – it reminded me of the luscious food descriptions in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, Farmer Boy. I’m a sucker for food descriptions. ;) But this was a heartwarming and sweet story!
-Charity U-Austenite, January 7, 2014, www.austenitis.blogspot.com/
I'm always drawn to stories with Native American content. Learning that this was one of those books, I knew I had to read it. The storyline deals with how the Maliseet were mistreated and the prejudice that was shown to them.
There is a romance within this story, and while the story actually revolves largely around this romance, it still isn't the main focus, in my opinion. This is, more than anything, a sweet "coming of age" story. While I definitely consider it a young adult book, I do think it can be enjoyed by many adults, too.
Shades of Mercy was a relaxing read for me, even with the tough issues tackled. I enjoyed my time within its pages!
-Tammy Shelnut, December 20, 2013, www.bluerosesheart.blogspot.com/
The best part about the book was it’s everyday feel. The story felt genuine to the time period and the issues and it was a nice slice of life piece on Mercy herself. Nothing was overly dramatic but there was still tension in the story to keep you reading forward to learn the fate of Mercy and the town as whole. The pacing switched from perfect to a little to slow a few times throughout but not enough to cause any disinterest.
The biggest problem I had was the first person. I think the novel suffered not having an omniscient POV. Everything felt very biased and centered as nothing else was represented except how Mercy felt.
-Alexis Ostrow, January 28, 2014, http://lbookbliss.com
Shades of Mercy is a story of hope, respect, and honor intertwined with God’s truth, mercy, and love. As I first began to read this book, I was skeptical. I live on Colville Confederated Tribal Land in Washington State and am married to a tribal member. I thought this book might be written by those who are not really familiar with tribal issues, Native way of life, and prejudices. I was pleasantly surprised that the authors had done their homework and made the Native concerns authentic, and respectful. This was a pleasant read with strong characterization and convictions.
-Carmen Peone, www.carmenpeone.com, January 24, 2014
"Shades of Mercy is a sweet story that gently takes you into the small sleepy community of Watsonville, Maine during a time of racial turmoil at the opposite end of the country. It is a story that opens up a period of history that little has been written or spoken about in the United States. This story has intrigued me to further research the Maliseet tribe.
Although forbidden, the love story has you cheering for Mercy and Mick to overcome their personal difficulties and follow through in their young blossoming romance. This book was enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon in one sitting. The clean content would be enjoyed by teens through adults."
-Ruth Kaup, www.composedbygrace.blogspot.com, February 3, 2014
Shades of Mercy is a touching coming of age story. Mercy lives in Maine on her parents farm. At 15, her life long friendship with Mick changes into something more. Then tragic events and old prejudices rear their ugly heads and life changes forever.
Such a touching read. The prejudices present in this book are still around today in one form or another. And so much of the lessons learned can be applied to everyone's lives. This is a great book for a book club or even in a class.
-Laura Pratt, http://www.hentownmama.com/, February 7, 2014
This was a wonderful, coming-of-age read. In addition, it was historical fiction, which is one of my favorite genres. The story covers a period of time in Maine's history when native Maliseets (among other Indian tribes) had been pushed out of their homes and land and into terrible living conditions, and then the push to restoration. It's not a part of American history I was familiar with, and so I found the story all the more fascinating.
Not your typical boy-meets-girl romance fluff -- Shades of Mercy was a wonderful, thoughtful read and left me wanting more. Based on the prologue and the epilogue (the epilogue completely took me by surpr
Read an Excerpt
SHADES OF MERCY
A Maine Chronicle
By Anita Lustrea, Caryn Rivadeneira, Pam Pugh
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2013 Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira
All rights reserved.
Early June 1954
I shoved The Catcher in the Rye between the mattress and box spring when I heard Mother yell up the stairs, although I probably needn't have. When I asked Mother for money to buy the book, she made it clear that it wasn't one Mr. Pop would condone. But she gave me the money anyway.
I figured a book tucked below the mattress, hidden by a stack of quilts and under a layer of ruffles, was one Mr. Pop would not find. And, therefore, could not disapprove of my reading.
"Mercy," Mother called again more insistently, this time from the landing, halfway up our staircase.
I cracked the door open—enough to poke my head out and let the cat in—never letting go of the glass knob. "Be right down."
"Please hurry. You need to get something in you. Your father wants you to go get Ansley and Mick."
I couldn't hide my smile.
My mother smiled back, shook her head, and waved her dishrag in the air. I watched her walk back down the stairs. Watched her graceful hand, still lovely after all that hard work, as it glided along the polished oak banister.
I closed the door and leaned for a moment against its dark panels. My smile spread wider across my face. Plenty of fifteen-year-olds would've balked at the idea of a drive into town, to where Ansley and Mick and all the Maliseet lived in the Flats, built over trash in our town dump. But not me. I'd go anywhere, do anything to be with Mick.
Though, of course, Mr. Pop didn't know this. He couldn't know this.
To him, sending me—"You're as good as any son, Mercy"—was simply prudent. I was a good driver, able to navigate the long road into town in any weather. And I was fearless. Unafraid of pounding on the plywood doors of the Flats, unafraid of pushing them open, stepping over and between bodies that huddled together or crisscrossed on the cold floors. Unafraid of clapping my hands, of announcing myself, even of shaking Ansley, Francis, Newell, and Clarence awake if I had to.
I suppose I should've been afraid, should've been more aware of the dangers that a teenaged girl stepping into a shack full of passed-out men might have presented. But these men wanted work, needed work. My presence was their manna. My knowledge of that kept me safe. Well, that and knowing Mick made these rounds with me.
I slid my nightgown off my shoulders and grabbed my shirt and blue jeans from the back of my desk chair. My flannel sleeve slid across the top of my desk and Lickers leapt toward it. She pinned the sleeve like she had a mouse's tail. Her claws dug into the slick-stained wood and dragged back.
"Lickers! No!" I swept my arm across the desk. Lickers leapt with a meow. No.
I ran my finger over the scratch and shook my head, tried not to cry as I thought back to what it took to get this. All last harvest, I'd worked for this desk. And even before with all the rock picking, clearing the fields of rock so the plows could ready the ground. Then I'd spent so many hours, days, weeks bent and sore picking potatoes out of the hard, dry earth. Filling the basket, emptying it into the barrel, filling the basket, emptying it into the barrel. On and on. The repetition might have made me lose my mind were it not for our farmhands Bud Drake and Ellery Burt and their encouraging banter.
But besides the long, hard hours, I got tired of being alone. Even though I was with a crew, no one else filled my barrels. When encouraging words failed to do the job, Bud's comments turned harsher toward us: "You're too far behind." "Your barrel isn't full enough." "Don't forget to put a ticket on your barrel when it's full."
You'd think we'd never done this before the way he nagged. Then again, Bud was only trying to please Mr. Pop. As was I.
Plus, I was focused on a goal: my new desk. So I put up with nagging and hard work and then the waiting—through the end of last October and first half of November—for the Sears truck to deliver this next piece of furniture to the farm. The one I'd longed for more than even the dresser or the bed, which I'd worked for the previous harvest.
The desk represented so much of what I'd wanted. A space to keep my pens, my journals, my books, and my sketch pads. And the mirror above it—the place I could sit and not only feel like me—the real me—but also see me: the young (was I also smart? Maybe even pretty?) woman looking back at me in that mirror. Instead of the sturdy farmhand Mr. Pop apparently saw.
So once again, I looked in that mirror and took a deep breath. Now wasn't the time to cry about a silly scratch. Not with Mother waiting to fill me with biscuits and eggs and fresh milk. Not with Mr. Pop waiting for me to bring back his workers. Not with Mick waiting just for me.
I put arms through sleeves and legs through pants. Pulled my hair back into a ponytail and gave Lickers a final glare. She licked her leg. She never noticed me.
* * *
"Morning, Mercy," Bud said, scraping his fork against the plate. "Truck's all gassed up and ready for you."
"Thanks. And morning to you both." I latched my hand around the porch post and swung a bit as I balanced on the top step, like I did every morning when I stopped to talk to Bud and Ellery, farmhands so trusted they were like family. Family that ate on the porch, that is.
I turned and raised an eyebrow at Ellery, wondering if his standard reply to Bud's greeting, usually some silly adage passed down through five generations of solid Maine stock, would make sense this morning.
"When all is said and done, Miss Mercy, don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya."
Ellery shoved another biscuit into his mouth, and I laughed. This old chestnut even got a snicker out of Mr. Pop.
"So, Ellery, Mother put the last of last night's cheddar in those eggs this morning. What'd you think of it?"
Publicly, he'd eat anything. But privately, this man with the joke had quite the sophisticated palate. Sure, he'd eat anything. But knew what he liked.
"Wicked good," he said. "Butcha know, that creamy Kraft cheese melts smoother than the cheddar. Wonder if she might try that sometime."
I shrugged. Ellery slurped his milk and continued: "Hey, watcha think of them wax cartons they're puttin' the milk in these days? I want the glass bottles back. This'll be a fad, you just wait."
"I'll mention it to her next time she places her order with Mr. Callahan," I said. "You should've been a chef, Ellery. Could've been the new chef at Nelson's. I hear they're hiring."
"Nah," said Ellery, "I'd've missed all this."
I followed his arm as he waved it out across the farm. This place was beautiful. Not just the house and the porch that Mother had made so lovely and welcoming, with tidy and warm places for anyone and everyone to sit and feel at home. But the land. It wasn't an easy land to farm, with its hard-packed rocky soil and short growing season, but Mr. Pop always reminded us that it was the best. It was the very hardness of this place that made it so amazing, he said. The blessings of this place came right out of its trials.
Mother pushed open the screen door. "Mercy, honestly. Have you still not gone? Stop bothering Bud and Ellery and get on your way."
"She's no bother, ma'am," Ellery said and winked at me. "We're just talking about your delicious eggs."
Mother smiled, lowered her eyes, and stepped back inside. She let the screen door slap closed behind her.
"I'll see you in a bit then," I said and hopped down the stairs, landing hard on my sneakers. "Wait. Mr. Pop said to ask you where you'll be when I get back with the Maliseet workers."
"Oh, I suppose the three-acre field would be best to drop them off. If you manage more than five of them this morning, bring half down back and the others to the three acres, off the back road."
"All right. See you when I get back. Want me to feed the chickens and let the pigs out into their pen after that?"
"No, I'll send Bud out to tend to the animals this morning."
Mr. Pop loved his animals. He might act annoyed with Lickers, but he loved seeing her pounce on mice in the shed or in the barn. And the pigs, well, we only had four, but he had them named before they'd been in the pen ten minutes. There was Gracie, after the beautiful and elegant movie star Grace Kelly, then Dorothy, named after Uncle Roger's wife, Dot. I'm not sure how I'd feel having a pig named after me. Aunt Dot just laughed. I guess Mr. Pop knew she'd respond that way. Then there was Gertrude. Mr. Pop never said, but I always believed she was named after the most annoying woman on our party line, Mrs. Garritson. If you ever needed to place a call, you were almost guaranteed to be thwarted by Mrs. Garritson yapping on the phone. George rounded out the pigs, and no one knows where that name came from. Mr. Pop just pointed out that "He looks like a George!"
We had twenty laying hens that we simply referred to as the "girls." Keep the girls fed, safe, and happy, and you'll always have plenty of eggs. That's what Mr. Pop said.
He always treated his farm animals well. They had names, a good place to live, and good food to nourish them. We all knew they'd be food on our table one day, and he wasn't afraid to slaughter them, but he treated them with dignity and respect all of their living days. I can't tell you how many times I heard Mr. Pop say, "Beware the farmer who treats his animals poorly. You could probably make a case that he doesn't treat his family all that well either."
* * *
The truck rumbled past the buttercups and clover down low on the roadside and the devil's paintbrushes and lupine in little patches here and there. I never tired of driving into town alone. It gave me time to think. Going the main road meant I could keep the windows wide-open and catch the breeze. The main road was one of the few paved ways to get into town. There was great beauty in the back way, either the Ridge Road or the Border Road, but the dust from the gravel made you close the cab up tight. Today I enjoyed the wind in my hair.
Mr. Pop had taught me to drive when I was eleven—four years before. It was standard practice for fathers to teach their sons to drive at that age or even younger. Teaching daughters was something of an anomaly. I'm sure plenty of the folks in town—and even on the surrounding farms—raised their eyebrows a bit when they first saw me at the wheel, bouncing and lurching down the back farm road as I learned to work the clutch on the old Ford potato truck. Who knows what they must've thought hearing those grinding gears halfway into town, watching me slide around corners in the muddy buildup at the end of the potato rows. However, the people of Watsonville, Maine, were plenty used to Mr. Pop telling them I was as "good as any son—if not better" and had been used to seeing me raised as the son he never had.
And certainly by now the sight of me, Paul's daughter, in that old potato truck was a regular one. I waved at Pastor Murphy and Mrs. Brown chatting in front of Fulton's on Main Street, knowing that the place I was headed, and what I was off to do, still offered plenty of fodder for gossip.
It had become clear enough by last summer when I was fourteen that I was no son. And that Mr. Pop still sent me and my "budding womanhood," Mother called it, to round up his Indian workers left many people shaking their heads and clucking their tongues.
If it had been any other father besides Paul Millar sending his daughter, it'd have been an uncontainable scandal, boiling over the entire town, through the farms, into the logging camps, and even across the border into New Brunswick. It'd happened with other stories.
But Paul Millar was a trusted, esteemed man. A true man of God and of honor. Although many folks questioned his decisions regarding me and the people he chose to hire, no one could question his heart and his mind. He was a good man. And everybody knew it. Everybody liked him.
Which meant that when Mother took me shopping in town—stepping into Fishman's and Woolworth's, our favorites for a chocolate soda and to look at magazines, pens, and diaries, or into the Chain Apparel and Boston Shoe Store for school clothes and shoes or browsing the beautiful dresses in Woodson's that sometimes made Mother tear up as she rubbed her fingers against the fabrics—no one dared ask the questions they were desperate to. When we stopped into the IGA Grocery Store, Miss Maude's checkout line would grow uncharacteristically quiet. She may have started her gossip about us the moment the bells jingled behind us, but at least she didn't pry for information. Not the way she did with other people.
* * *
I slowed the truck.
"Molly! Molly Carmichael!" I yelled and waved out the truck window. But Molly just grimaced and waved me on. I stopped the truck midstreet to watch her kick off into a run. I hadn't gotten a chance to talk to Molly much since school let out a few weeks ago. And I missed that. Molly was the only one I could talk to about Mick, the only one who understood. Molly's older sister Marjorie and Glenn Socoby had been seeing each other on the sly since last Easter. Glenn was a Maliseet, like Mick. I was tempted to turn the truck to follow her, find out what was up, but Mr. Pop would've had my hide. I'd have to catch her another time. Mick, Ansley, and the others were waiting.
The truck croaked and lurched forward, causing heads to turn again on Main Street. But I kept my eyes on what lay ahead: the stately Second Baptist Church. I always wished we went there. Not just because our friends the Carmichaels were members, but because of its ivory steeple cutting into Maine skies, its creamy columns standing firm in front of scrubbed-each-summer clay bricks, and its English-born-and-bred preacher, Second Baptist breathed sophistication. Even though my family's First Baptist had beaten Second Baptist to the punch years ago and won the Baptist Church Naming War, somehow our little country church, tucked back among potato fields, seemed like the loser.
Especially since Second Baptist got its new sign—the one Ellery called a "braggin' sign." Today it read: "Sunday at 9 a.m. Love Thy Neighbor." I'd have to tell Mr. Pop this one. I knew what he'd say: "Better we love our neighbors all the time, Mercy. Not just nine o'clock on Sundays."
The stench of rot and decay and animal waste hit before the sight of it.
But whenever the Flats came into view—after that bend just past town, after the buildings give way once again to the pines—the smell made sense. Because it isn't just the dump itself but the years of that putrid smell that clung to shack walls, if you call corrugated cardboard or tin (with tar paper stapled to it) walls. That gag-inducing odor steeped deep into old sofas and sunk down into chewed-through mattresses.
This is how and where Mick and the rest of the Maliseet lived. This is where our town had relegated them. But the proud Maliseet tried not to focus on the trash and the ugly; instead they set their eyes on the surrounding beauty. After all, here the rolling brook hugged the country road and sparkled as it ran over rocks and rapids. High white birch and tall pines peppered the landscape across and behind the dump. In fact, in many ways the mound of trash itself blended in. Were it not for the shacks, the rectangles of gray—the soiled mattresses that the Maliseet slept on under open sky—the stray, jutting bits of broken chairs, and piles of tin cans and cereal boxes that the people of Watsonville drove out and piled onto the heap every Saturday, one could be hard-pressed to distinguish this hill from the other ones that rolled their way out of town.
Mr. Pop had taught me to stay vigilant for the dangers that lurked along this inviting gravel-covered road: moose, deer, and bear could wander out at any moment. But as I drove out this day, the words of Second Baptist's braggin' sign reminded me of another danger Mr. Pop often warned me of. "Be careful," he would say, "when people fail to treat one another with dignity."
I hadn't always understood when he said this, but as I parked the truck at the base of the dump, a chill ran through me, suddenly understanding. I'd always figured the black bears that sniffed and poked around through the trash were the greatest danger here. Perhaps I was wrong.
"Hey! Hurry up!"
I jumped at the knock at the truck window. Mick.
"Come on. Before everyone's up," Mick jimmied the handle and opened the door for me, grabbing my hand as I stepped out. "Over here."
He looked around and pulled me toward a pair of smoke-streaked yellow cellar doors.
"Old Man Stringer dropped 'em off yesterday," Mick said. "He was too drunk to haul them up all the way. But wanted us to have 'em. 'They sure don't work for my shack, so I thought maybe they'd work for yours; Old Man told me."
Excerpted from SHADES OF MERCY by Anita Lustrea, Caryn Rivadeneira, Pam Pugh. Copyright © 2013 Anita Lustrea and Caryn Rivadeneira. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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