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The Way    by Kristen Wolf order for
by Kristen Wolf
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Crowley

Set in ancient Palestine, The Way features many characters who will seem familiar to readers. But before we meet Jesus of Nazareth, Kristen Wolf introduces Anna, the only child of a poor carpenter in Nazareth. When his wife Mari fails to provide him with a son, Yoseph decides to disguise his daughter as a boy and sell her to a group of shepherds. Anna is unlike many of the girls her own age. Not only does her body resemble that of a boy, but she is also drawn to her mother's mysterious religion.

Mari and her family worshipped a female God, who they believed to be the supreme Creator. The followers of the Way believe the male centered religion practiced by priests only leads to suffering and war. But the old ways are considered heresy, and Mari attempts to hide her devotion to the Mother from her husband. When Anna begins to show interest in her mother's beliefs, Mari realizes she must find a way to shield her daughter from those who may associate her with the old ways. When Mari's midwife, Zahra, is stoned to death at the request of Anna's grandfather for bringing disaster on the family, Anna is secretly given Zahra's medallion symbolizing her connection to the Mother. This medallion will be Anna's spiritual compass and her only connection to her mother throughout her long journey.

When Anna is adopted into a group of shepherds, her father transforms her into a boy by cutting her hair and dressing her in boy's clothing. Anna's new persona becomes so convincing that as the years progress, Anna's feminine identity is all but erased as she becomes Jesus of Nazareth. The years she spends disguised as a male reveal the power men hold in society. Anna's newfound freedom becomes precious to her, but her identity threatens to destroy the new life Anna has come to love. Anna's transformation into the man who would be worshipped as a healer, happens when she meets a group of secluded women who secretly practice the old religion. Although Jesus is initially kept against his will, the sisters' mysterious revelations present an ancient truth long kept hidden by those seeking to destroy the true faith.

The Way is an entertaining read for anyone who has an open mind about religion. This is a wonderful novel which focuses on Anna's strength in the male dominated world of ancient Palestine. Kristen Wolf has written a tender story of friendship and love, both maternal and divine. Anna's journey, from being the unwanted daughter of a carpenter to an adored healer, will captivate readers. Inspired by her own beliefs as a woman, as well as some of her favorite books, Wolf puts a uniquely feminist spin on the story of Jesus Christ. The subject of this novel may be a sensitive one for many, but this spiritually provocative novel will enthrall people of all faiths. The Way is an impressive and absorbing debut novel.

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