Now remembered as the author of the world s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father until the night he hears Polly Catlett s enchanting voice, caroling. He s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.
An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?
Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.”
Jody Hedlund’s latest release is a further testament (as if readers needed any more proof) that she could teach a master class on immersive historical fiction. Hedlund has made it her literary mission to give a voice to the forgotten or overlooked historical risk takers that shaped history.
How many times has the sweet and fragile melody of “Amazing Grace” passed over our lips, drawn us out of an abyss, given us hope? The song is imbued with such humbling transparency and vulnerability that the message has withstood the test of time. Behind the famous song is the harrowing story of love, sacrifice, desperation and redemption that serves as the inspiration for Newton and Polly.
John’s life choices progress from audacious to grievous, culminating with his shameful involvement with the slave trade. Here is a man that was made so low in order to see that his life had reached a desperate crossroads. John’s transformative moment of reckoning awakens his soul to pen “Amazing Grace.” I respect that Hedlund does not give readers a sanitized rendition of John’s testimony; he, in his own words, was a wretch, and to expurgate John’s story would strip the novel of its powerful message. Instead, Hedlund uses discretion in how much detail to relate, but she is unrelenting in her characterization of John’s brokenness.
Polly is a tour de force. She is resolute in her love for John, even when it defies her father and is in direct opposition to the faith she holds so dear. Polly is the anchor in John’s life, the constant light that guides him home. Polly’s story is not one of excess and extremes as John’s; her struggle defies historical parameters and translates to contemporary readers as she reflects on her place in society and the fervor of her passion for John.
Newton and Polly is a tumultuous and engrossing read, an indelible true story. I am so thankful that Jody Hedlund drew it out of historical obscurity.
**Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.**