Almost all of us recognize John Newton's moving hymn AMAZING GRACE, and when we sing it or hear the lyrics, we are awed by the hymn's redemptive message. Many of us know a bit about Newton's later-in-life decision to become a minister and that the hymn documents some details of his conversion and redemption. We may even know that in his youth he worked on and commanded slave ships, but there still remains much we do not know about Newton.
Jody Hedlund's newest historical fiction NEWTON AND POLLY gives us the opportunity to learn more. Newton, still a teenager himself, meets Polly, the daughter of his mother's cousin and falls instantly in love. Being an impetuous, immature youth, Newton fails to make an appointment to start a job his father has arranged for him, instead staying extra days at Polly's home. His failure to set sail on the appointed date and loss of an excellent marine opportunity deepens a chasm between father and son which started years before when Newton's mother died. The Newton we see throughout most of this book is one who disappoints all around him. He has an instant charm and humor which secures Polly's interest, but he quickly gives in to his own vices -- drinking, carousing, and gambling, causing Polly's father to banish him from their home. At one point he is "impressed" or forced into naval service for the queen as the British prepare to fight the French. While at sea, he continues to be obstinate and foolish, leading himself into deeper trouble and further away from any hope of winning Polly's affections, and definitely further away from a relationship with God.
Readers will be enthralled with the turn of events which change Newton's life -- a storm which should have killed him, a father who should have deserted him, and a woman who should have left him behind. Like Hedlund's recent novel LUTHER AND KATHARINA, the author has imagined much about the interactions between Polly and John, but she does follow closely the actual life happenings of the two. And historical details such as the prevalence of smugglers, Polly's father's job as a custom official, and the beginnings of anti-slavery sentiments among the Quakers make the book all the more authentic. I highly recommend this title for my historical fiction friends. I received an e-copy of this title from NetGalley. All opinions are mine.