This is a captivating novel that stands out from most Christian historical novels in three major ways. First, written in the first person, it reads like a diary or a memoir and thus easily transports the reader to rural England of the 1860s; Second, although events are few and relatively ordinary, one cannot put the book down because the character development rings true and we want to see what happens next not only for Rebecca but for other characters in the story; third, and maybe the most important aspect of the novel, Rebecca takes the reader on a spiritual journey that concerns us all, in any century.
Rebecca, the only child of a village vicar and his wife, finds herself orphaned at the age of seventeen. Two older neighbor ladies help her come to grip with the brutality of her loss and the decisions to be made. Distrusting her only relative, her paternal uncle, she decides to take work as a domestic. The work load is heavy, the discipline rigorous, yet she is aware of learning much. The friendship of fellow servants as well as of the villagers and the minister in her new surroundings help her cope with her new life and keep a sense of identity in a world where she is expected to do without speaking, questioning, or thinking.
Despite the strict separation between the Davenport family and the servants, her employers allow their employees to borrow books from the library and, in her very scarce hours of freedom, Rebecca becomes a voracious reader. This love of books introduces her to Edward Thorpe, also an orphan, but nephew to the Davenports. Edward and Rebecca find they share the same religious convictions as well, but the demarcation between servants and gentry, as Rebecca discovers, is a hard one to breach.
Having become a housekeeper herself by the time she turns twenty, Rebecca has had to endure new disappointments and been forced to make new decisions, wondering what God had in mind for her life. By the time she finds true love, she realizes that God has trained her for her the life she has longed and prayed for.
Through Rebecca's story, Hannah Buckland raises important spiritual points, such as, the difference among preachers with those who live out their faith in service of their fellow men; those who seek popularity among their parishioners first and foremost and thus preach "feel good" sermons that challenge no one, and those who view their position as a form of spiritual aristocracy, displaying their knowledge and superiority toward their parishioners, always ready to point at the punishment for sins, but never at God's grace offered to all. There are also the questions of unanswered prayers, especially when contrasted with an ardent desire of the heart, of talents and calling, and of the danger of becoming too conformed to the world by allowing subtle but nefarious changes to enter one's life little by little. Something that is sadly too easily achieved when one does not keep a vigilant watch on his beliefs and values. It would be too long to list more of the many qualities of this novel, so I will simply add that it is a truly profound Christian work of fiction, well worth reading and discussing.