by Iola Goulton
Tandi Reese has escaped with her two children to Fairhope, a small village in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She’s broke, trying to escape her controlling husband and hopefully find herself and reconnect with her children, Zoey and JT. She rents a cottage on the grounds of a run-down stately home, owned by a reclusive old lady, Iola Anne Poole.
Soon after moving in, she finds Iola Anne dead, and is given the job of clearing the house in exchange for rent. While cleaning, she finds dozens of prayer boxes filled with letters, prayers from Iola Anne to her heavenly father, in which she has poured out the details of her life.
I will admit I didn’t actually buy this novel based on the cover blurb. I bought it because it had a character named Iola (even though Iola is dead by the time the novel starts). Iola isn’t exactly a common name, and I was intrigued.
My curiosity was rewarded: The Prayer Box was certainly worth reading. It’s been nominated for the 2014 Christy Awards in the Contemporary Fiction category, and it’s got to be a strong contender. The plot is tightly-woven, the characters are real and interesting, and the writing is excellent.
While The Prayer Box is written by a Christian author and published by a Christian publisher, it’s not preachy come-to-Jesus Christian fiction, but the nature and theme of the novel—prayer—is certainly Christian. The Prayer Box is about a broken woman with a life full of mistakes trying to rediscover herself, slowly realising that her identity is about her, not about her boyfriend or husband:
I wasn’t looking for Iola in these boxes. I was looking for myself, for the answer to the question I’d be asking and avoiding for years. How do you finally move beyond the past?I don’t know why Lisa Wingate chose Iola for her character’s name. I don’t even know if she knows the meaning of the name. It’s a fascinating choice that underpins the book. Common wisdom is that Iola is a Greek name, meaning “violet-coloured dawn”—which doesn’t fit at all.
But I’ve always been told my name was Welsh, and after some online research a couple of years ago, I found the Welsh meaning of my name. It’s not “violet-coloured dawn”.
It’s “valued by the Lord”. And that’s what The Prayer Box is all about: Iola Anne Poole, who I believe knew she was valued by the Lord despite what others said about her, and Tandi Reese, who learned she was valued by the Lord, that she was the carpenter’s daughter both literally and spiritually.
Here's Lisa Wingate talking about the inspiration behind The Prayer Box:
You can find more about Lisa Wingate and her novels at her website.