Book Review from Kirkus Reviews

A fictional imagining of the childhood of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

Due to scant historical evidence, very little is known about Mary’s early life before her marriage to Joseph and the birth of Jesus. Nickum (The Path, 2014, etc.) attempts to creatively fill in these blanks, envisioning what Mary’s early upbringing might have been like. Here, Mary is raised as an only child because her older sister, Salome, was kidnapped by Samaritan rebels, never to be seen again. Later, Mary is also abducted by a mysterious woman and held in captivity for weeks before her eventual rescue. At an early age, she demonstrates a natural curiosity and defiance, refusing to leave home to become a Temple Virgin. She candidly challenges traditions and customs that often seem designed to restrict women’s freedom. Mary’s parents decide she’s ready for marriage at the age of 12, and despite her attraction for a boy relatively close to her age, they choose Joseph, a much older man. Mary is horrified and vehemently expresses her consternation, almost ruining the arrangement, which turns out to be financially beneficial to her family. Mary becomes pregnant only two months after her wedding—so soon that Joseph suspects that he might not be the father. When a Roman visits Mary’s house on business and issues a prediction, it later looks like prophecy: “You will have a son who will change the world.” The book’s story begins prior to Mary’s birth and astutely depicts the political context into which she was born. Galilee was under the brutal rule of Herod, who was only notionally a Jew and expressed his pro-Roman leanings in his fawning adoration of Caesar. Mary’s father, Joachim, was part of a perilous rebellion meant to replace Herod with a less tyrannical, more genuinely Jewish leader. Much of the value of the author’s dramatization is precisely in vividly bringing to life this political and cultural context. Nickum’s interpretation certainly departs from the biblical account—specifically, the story as it’s told in the Gospel of Luke—and Mary conceives Jesus naturally, not immaculately. This particular revision has significant theological implications and seems like an omission that’s never directly addressed. However, the story is still engaging as historical hypothesis and successfully adds layers of depth and complexity to a figure whose formative years remain obscure.

A provocative, intelligently constructed historical exercise.

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