Tomorrow (June 4) will be the release day for The Well, the debut novel by Stephanie Landsem. Stephanie and I first met through the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). When she told me last year about The Well, she explained that she originally thought she was writing a YA novel but realized later that it best fits into the category “Biblical fiction.”
I was blessed to receive an advanced copy of The Well and am happy to share this moving story on my Monday Book Reviews. 🙂
Author: Stephanie Landsem
Age group: adult (but it’s okay for teens, too)
Genre: Biblical fiction
Synopsis: The Well is based on the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well. If you’re familiar with this story, you know it as the one in which Jesus tells a woman who says she has no husband, “Yes, you are right. You have five husbands.” And then he offers her living water. In this version of the story, the Samaritan woman is named Nava, but the story focuses more on her daughter Mara. Because of her mother’s sins, Mara has been shunned by most of the people in their small village. Mara must also care for her crippled younger brother since Nava is often too ill to do much else than remain in the corner of their simple home. Mara’s life changes when two men come to town: a handsome young man from Caesarea and a Jewish teacher by the name of Jesus. Their arrival sends Mara on a journey to save her mother and provide her and her brother with a future.
I really enjoyed this take on a familiar story. We have no real idea what the background was on the Samaritan woman’s five husbands, but Stephanie’s adaptation provides a richly detailed story that explains how a woman 2,000 years ago might have ended up with five husbands and what consequences that would have brought.
One of my favorite aspects of this story is that it made life in Jesus’s time very real for me. Stephanie clearly did a lot of research into clothing, food, religious beliefs, and geography. In fact, if you want to learn more about the differences between Jews and Samaritans, you can visit Stephanie’s blog, where she’s been discussing those differences lately.
My favorite part of the book was the ending, but of course I can’t give that a way. I’ll just say that at one point in the story you find out that a character is really another real-life person we know by another name. My initial reaction was “Oh, no, you mean that guy’s actually so-and-so. Ack! I know what happened to him in real life!” But that surprise twist made the ending perfect. The epilogue was a moving finale to the story.
My only slight problem with the story was that I’m terrible with names, and so I had a hard time keeping characters with names like Mechola, Uziel, Zevulun, Moshe, Abahu, Amram, Noach, and Enosh straight. I could’ve used a list of character names and brief descriptions. Or even a family tree–when a woman has five husbands, it’s hard to keep track! 🙂
Even with the slight name confusion, I still really enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it to adults and teens who might be interested in this imaginative view of a familiar story.
Congratulations, Stephanie, on your debut! I look forward to your next book.