The Prayer Box
by Lisa Wingate

Tyndale House Publishers, 2013. ISBN 978-1-414-38825-0.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 07/11/2013

Fiction: Mainstream; Fiction: Spirituality

The Prayer Box begins with the recent arrival of Tandi Reese, her young son, J.T., and teenage daughter, Zoey, in Fairhope, a tiny marina town on the Outer Banks, with just a few dollars and an empty gas tank after fleeing an abusive marriage. A realtor has linked Tandi with a tiny rental bungalow on the grounds of a large estate owned by the shunned, controversial Iola Anne Poole, 91. A few days after moving in, Tandi notices there's no sign of life in the house and, though reluctant to be seen or noticed on the island, decides she must find out if Iola is okay.

Tandi tentatively knocks on the old Victorian home's front door, and then enters after no response. Cautiously, while calling out Iola's name, she looks in each cluttered room to no avail, before starting up the winding staircase. A dark cat with a torn ear startles Tandy just as she enters a weathered bedroom and finds Iola peacefully lying on a bed, a lovely old quilt beneath her. Tandi's worst fears are realized as she gazes at Iola, who is clearly resting in eternal peace.

In a few days Tandi learns that Iola, who has no living relatives, has bequeathed her estate to her church. The minister wants to prepare the house for sale and hires Tandi to clean it. In the process, she discovers several haphazard stacks of handmade, decorated boxes in an upstairs closet. Each box is filled with small torn notes and many larger ones to her father, words that speak of Iola.s challenges, her hopes, and her faith for that particular year. Taking pauses in the huge cleaning job, Tandi slowly learns Iola's life story.

On a parallel path herself, Tandi is, in the face of overwhelming problems, searching for a better direction by trying to re-create her own life. Her difficult childhood has led to many poor life choices, and now we see her about to enter another bad relationship. On the tiny remote island, Tandi finds a second job with the owners of Sandy's Seashell Shop. Here Tandi connects with a sisterhood that accepts and nurtures her, and ultimately helps with her challenges as she helps them with theirs.

I found The Prayer Box a compelling, fascinating, and well written story of a young woman's journey in the company of a new sisterhood.her deceased role model, Iola, her friendship with J.T.'s teacher, and, with a magnificent posthumous gift to Iola, her ultimate integration into the community.

Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, speaker, and the author of nineteen mainstream novels, including the national best seller Tending Roses, now in its eighteenth printing. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol Award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, and a two-time Carol Award winner. Her novel Blue Moon Bay was a Booklist Top Ten of 2012 pick. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with eight others as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. Visit her website.

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