Updated: Sep 15, 2020
A wrenching but hopeful story of women seeking shelter from abuse and the unconventional nun that ministers to them.
MERCY HOUSE is story about Sister Evelyn, a feisty feminist nun who runs a shelter for abused women in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. When the Vatican sends Bishop Robert Hawkins to investigate American religious sisters as part of the Apostolic Visitation, convinced they are breaking Catholic doctrine, Sister Evelyn is distressed. When the Bishop shows up early at Mercy House she is more than frazzled. Sister Evelyn had been sexually assaulted as a young novice by this very bishop conducting the investigation. She had told no one of this abuse. She is now forced to appeal to her assailant, and hide the forbidden practices of her shelter—including helping women obtain divorce, birth control, and abortions—all to protect the diverse and vibrant individuals under her care.
MERCY HOUSE is a wrenching tale involving a unconventional nun, a malicious bishop and a colorful group of abused women who seek shelter from the storm that is their life. The story is intriguing, but as a Catholic, I struggled with the authenticity of a few elements of story. The writing and the character development were both good.
I particularly liked Sister Evelyn’s flawed character. The story showed both her vulnerability, as well as her fierceness in protecting the women at Mercy House. I loved the part where she uses a can of Lysol and a lighter, to fend off a gang leader with a Glock. Her feistiness, creativity and courage were admirable. The backstories of the women staying in Mercy House—Lucia, Katrina, Desiree, Esther and Mei-LI—were vivid and heartbreaking and their ultimate camaraderie was inspiring.
Bishop Hawkins, on the other hand was so virulently evil, it was almost comical, particularly when he searched the bedrooms of the residents of Mercy House and gleefully confiscated all manner of paraphernalia to support his investigation.
I searched for and would have loved to read an author note or an interview with the author to find out more about her inspiration for the story, and her research. MERCY HOUSE is author ALENA DILLION’s debut novel. She has also written a humor collection I Thought We Agreed to Pee in the Ocean published in 2015. She teaches creative writing at Endicott College and St. Joseph’s College and lives on the beautiful north shore of Boston.
Thanks to Edelweiss for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Published February 12, 2020