Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
Published by Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
The first thing everyone seems to ask about Amaryllis in Blueberry is if it is like The Poisonwood Bible. The comparison seems obvious: an American family from the not-so-distant past, consisting of a mother, father, and four girls, move to Africa for a missionary endeavor. I will admit that, for the first portion of the book, I was unsure whether or not Amaryllis in Blueberry would end up being derivative of Kingsolver’s work, especially as the novel is narrated through multiple voices, as is The Poisonwood Bible. In the end, though, I truly do not think it was. The differences were not merely surface level either, the entire plot and feel of the book was different, all that was really shared was the plot point of a missionary voyage to Africa and the family size and structure, along with a couple of other shallow similarities (youngest daughter beloved of the mother, eldest daughter seemingly obsessed with her looks).
In Amaryllis in Blueberry, we begin with the family at home in the Midwest – although we see forward into their time in Africa immediately – and see them develop as people before they leave for Africa. Instead of coming directly from a strongly held religious belief, Dick Slepy’s decision to move his family to Africa so he can be a medical missionary arises from outside stimulus and he feelings and concerns about his family. The time in Africa is actually a surprisingly small portion of the novel, and even then Africa primarily presents a new setting that challenges the family to face their individual and group problems.
Each of the characters is severely flawed, but not so flawed that they seem absurd and unrealistic as a group, simply flawed enough to be recognizable as messily human. Their flaws as individuals and as a family forms the basis of Amaryllis in Blueberry and makes for a fascinating, realistic novel. Meldrum’s absolutely lovely writing serves to draw the reader immediately into the Slepy’s lives.
A well-written and well-plotted novel about a family’s darkest secrets. Recommended.
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