a single beadI try to imagine what it would be like to go through all of this without my faith, and the bottom line is this: I’m really glad that I don’t have to. (Excerpt from A Single Bead, p. 152)

Teen fiction novelist Stephanie Engelman encourages the reader to discover (or rediscover) the power of prayer when grieving in her debut book, A Single BeadHer protagonist, Kate, lost her grandmother to a tragic plane crash only a year ago.  At the grave site on the one-year anniversary of her death, Kate mysteriously discovers a single bead from her grandmother’s rosary – with her initials on it.  From that point onward, Kate seeks to find the remaining beads that bear initials with her other family members on them.  As she puts the pieces of the puzzle together, she realizes that faith is the answer to this unsolved mystery.

Kate’s mother is in the throes of grief after having lost her own mother, which spirals into clinical depression.  As Kate watches her mother’s spirit diminish and her physical presence deteriorate, she knows that her mom has been missing something – but what?  She soon discovers that faith in God – not in objects, such as the rosary beads – are what bring healing and serenity to one’s life after loss.

Kate experiences her own grief as her mother is hospitalized for depression.  She longs for her mom’s warmth and love, yet her mother has become an empty shell incapable of expressing emotion.  Kate journeys with other family members, who offer her solace and encourage her to pray the rosary more often.  In turn, Kate’s lackluster faith is reawakened, and she clings to it as she courageously offers the same invitation to her mother – to deepen her faith.

She doesn’t receive all of the answers, but she knows that God does answer prayer.

A Single Bead is classified as teen fiction with subcategories in awakening faith, rosary, and trauma/depression.  Truly it fits all of these and more.  Engelman flawlessly unravels a story – a journey – of not one person’s life, but several people.  She showcases the value of community, especially following illness or loss, and the reader instantly connects to main character Kate’s extended family.  Engelman’s style is warm, inviting, and fluid.  The book draws the reader in from the start and entices him or her to desire more in each subsequent chapter.  Her character development is detailed but not overly so, and her description of plot and use of dialog is impeccable.

I’m not one to recommend (or even frequently read) fiction, but this story changed my heart in such a short time.  What makes the book versatile, as well, is that Engelman included several discussion questions at the end in order to facilitate further discussion.  This could be used in a family setting, in youth groups or other parish ministries.  I believe it is perfect for a teen grief group, as well.

For anyone whose faith has wavered because of the question of suffering, pick up A Single Bead.  Its nonjudgmental characters will be relevant, as they all are in varying degrees of devotion to or skepticism of a personal God.  This book is also a perfect gift for the struggling teen in your life.  If you are hurting over trauma or tragedy, or if you know someone who is, purchase A Single Bead.  It’s a gift that is nonconfrontational, yet provides a gentle and intimate view of life after loss and purpose in the struggle.

Text Copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing, all rights reserved.