Book Review: The Spirit of Sweetgrass

19 Feb

455065_w185Essie Mae Laveau Jenkins is a 78-year-old sweetgrass basket weaver who sits on the side of Hwy. 17 in the company of her dead husband, Daddy Jim. Inspired by her Auntie Leona, Essie Mae finally discovers her calling in life and weaves powerful “love baskets,” praying fervently over them to affect the lives of those who visit her roadside stand. When she’s faced with losing her home and her stand and being put in a nursing home, Daddy Jim talks her into coming on up to Heaven to meet sweet Jesus-something she’s always wanted to do. Once there, she reunites with Gullahs and African ancestors; but soon, her heavenly peace is disrupted, for she still has work to do. Now Essie Mae, who once felt powerless and invisible, must find the strength within her to keep her South Carolina family from falling apart.

NSeitz_head022711Nicole Seitz is the author of several critically acclaimed novels – The Inheritance of Beauty, Saving Cicadas, A Hundred Years of Happiness, Trouble the Water, and The Spirit of Sweetgrass. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism, and also has a degree in Illustration from Savannah College of Art & Design.

Her paintings are featured on the covers of her books. Visit her at @NicoleSeitzFacebook and for more information.

My Impressions:

I really wanted to like The Spirit of Sweetgrass by Nicole Seitz. It has been in my TBR pile quite a while and I recommended it to my church book club. (I read Beyond Molasses Creek and loved it. Review HERE.) And while I did find the first person voice of Essie Mae refreshing and some of the circumstances really funny, there was just too much of the spiritual element that I found bizarre or far-fetched. From some pre-meeting conversations, other members of my group are having trouble with the book too. Have you read it? Please let us know what you think.

Essie Mae is a sweetgrass lady — a resident of the South Carolina Low Country who keeps the basket weaving tradition going. Spending long hours at her road side stand, she has a lot of time to contemplate her life and talk to her dead husband. Faced with the end of her life, Essie Mae decides to take action by weaving a number of love baskets to bring people together.

Spoiler Alert: Skip the next paragraph if you do not want key information disclosed.

I enjoyed the first half of the book. The first person account is told in a modified Low Country vernacular. The Gullah/Geechee heritage and the art of sweetgrass basketmaking made it interesting. Seitz does a great job of capturing the sights, sounds and scents of the area. But things went down hill for me when Essie Mae goes to heaven. While none of us know just how heaven will be, there are some Bible passages that point out truths that are disregarded in this book. Sadness, grief and regret still exist in Essie Mae’s heaven. The author has Essie Mae return to life, explaining away her experiences with a coma. But Essie Mae maintains she really was in heaven, making her an unreliable narrator or heaven a place I really don’t want to go. I have trouble with Essie Mae being unreliable. She sometimes may be naive and out of touch, but never unsure of what she fundamentally believes.

End of Spoilers

So there you have it. The Spirit of Sweetgrass should generate some very interesting discussion, which will be great for our group. But I am afraid the verdict on this one will be an overwhelming thumbs down.

Update: Well, my group met and of the ten of us there we had 7 thumbs-up! That just proves that reviewing books is very subjective. So check it out for yourself.

For more positive reviews, check out the Amazon site.

To purchase a copy of this book, click on the image below.


One Response to “Book Review: The Spirit of Sweetgrass”


  1. Saturday Review of Books: February 22, 2014 | Semicolon - February 28, 2014

    […] Beckie @ ByTheBook (The A-Z of C S Lewis)11. Beckie @ ByTheBook (The Spirit of Sweetgrass)12. Katy @ BooksYALove (Flygirl by Sherri L Smith)13. Becky (Where Courage Calls)14. Becky […]


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