Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl (Abingdon Press) is a stand-alone novel by debut author Kellie Coates Gilbert. Set in a close-knit community in Idaho where football reigns supreme, this is an extremely well written and moving story, very relevant for our times. To put it simply, Kellie Coates Gilbert is an author to watch.


How far would you go for your child?

Barrie Graeber has two great kids, a loving husband, and a respected job as the high school counselor in her close-knit community. Without warning, everything unravels when her teenage daughter, Pearl, is betrayed by friends and lashes out.

Nothing prepares this mother for the helplessness that follows when her attempts to steer her daughter back on course fail and Pearl shuts her out . . . or when she discovers the unthinkable about her nemesis, the football coach.

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving, Mother of Pearl brings us into the heart of a mother bound by an incredible burden, who ultimately finds she must recognize her own vulnerability and learn to trust in something much bigger.

My thoughts

Mother of Pearl is a wonderful character-driven, relationship drama with court scenes that are top notch - and while I read a lot of novels that fit that description, this story is quite different from anything I've ever read. Relevant, compelling, heartrending, and thought provoking are a few adjectives that quickly come to mind. The writing is tight, infused with Kellie's dry sense of humor, and will keep you turning the pages.

Who  will enjoy this story? Anyone who wants a riveting narrative that grabs you from the first and doesn't let go. Those who like character-driven drama with a heroine who feels so real that you'll want to cheer her on. People who have experienced a heartbreaking loss. Mothers everywhere.

At the heart of this story is a mother's fierce and unfailing love. As Barrie sees her daughter beginning the march toward independence, she reflects, "I find myself wishing I could grab the drumsticks and toss them aside, silencing the beat that is drawing her away." What mother can't relate to that feeling?!

Barrie is a strong character, a school guidance counselor whose job is to advocate for students in a school - and community - where football continually trumps academics. "Sometimes that means protecting them from a coach who has yet to understand that the one with the most trophies can still wind up a loser." Pearl's death shines the light on the growing phenomenon of coaches sexually exploiting students, and Barrie becomes a mother who risks her job, marriage, and Pearl's reputation to find answers and see that justice is served.

"A stiff upper lip makes it really hard to smile."
- Barrie

Spiritual themes are subtle, but ever present. Parents often grieve in very different ways, and we see that in Barrie and Steve. Barrie struggles with the faith that Steve finds solace in, and feels that he is moving on without her:  "I wish I were a religious woman. Maybe faith would be an antidote to a world that crumbles beneath your feet." Spiritual themes of faith, hope, and recovery are always present just beneath the surface.

Watching Barrie grieve reminds me of the many times I have felt awkward around someone who has lost a loved one, not knowing what to say. Barrie feels somewhat detached and notices how uncomfortable her friends seem, "as if my horrible luck might be contagious." And I felt for Barrie because she didn't have an unshakable faith to support her. But her strength and determination to bring justice do eventually lead to the embracing of a timid faith. I like how Kellie leaves some things to our imagination, and after the celebration scene in the last chapter, I can easily envision the advocate for Christ that Barrie will become.

While I would have liked to see certain things explored in more depth - the background surrounding Pearl's birth, the strained relationship between Barrie and her mother, conflict resolution between Barrie and Steve, for instance - the story focused exactly on what it needed to focus on. I will say, however, that if Kellie had written a 500-page novel with more storylines fleshed out, I would have been glued to every page.

Readers, please don't shy away from this book because it deals with a teenager's death, but be drawn by the fact that it tells the story of a woman who overcomes an unexpected, life-changing obstacle. In Kellie's words, "I write about messy lives, and eternal hope."

I eagerly anticipate what Kellie writes next, and highly recommend Mother of Pearl to all readers.

Kellie Coates Gilbert

From Kellie . . .

       St. Augustine tells my own faith story with this quote:  “In my deepest wound, I saw your glory and it dazzled me.”
       People have many layers, and never more than in family dynamics and hard times, like those explored in Mother of Pearl. I’m intrigued with the coping mechanisms we employ to fill our empty places, the chasm only God can fill.
       When readers find themselves in the deep places in life, I hope they will think of Barrie Graeber and remember that life-changing circumstances can be conduits to His majesty.

* * * * * * * * * *


A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure. She is a Pacific Northwest native, and now calls Dallas home.

To learn more about Kellie and her novels, visit You will especially enjoy the "Fifteen Things about Kellie Coates Gilbert" on the About Me page.

This book was provided by  Kellie Coates Gilbert in exchange for my honest review.

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