Blog Tour: Band of Sisters

Today's post is going to be a little different - it's a combined review + Q&A as part of Tyndale House's blog tour for Cathy Gohlke's new novel Band of Sisters. That in itself isn't too far removed from the ordinary, but I'll go on and tell you: there's going to be a healthy dose of reflection as well, because this novel ripped my heart to pieces. In a good way - mostly - I think.

Band of Sisters
Cathy Gohlke
Tyndale House, 2012

Maureen O'Reilly and her little sister Katie Rose arrived on America's shores desperate for the chance - the promise - of a new life. Maureen hoped the dark shadows of her past were safely behind her in Ireland, and Katie Rose had big dreams for a plusher, easier life. Neither expected what was awaiting them. From the beginning, the journey was rocky, and when she learned the man who had promised their father safe passage and a new start had died - and is unceremoniously dumped onto the streets by his son-in-law, Maureen's desperation reaches a new level. Following a lead from the man she met on Ellis Island, Maureen finds herself at a swanky department store - but lists the Wakefields as her reference, rather than the suspect Jaime Flynn. A deception that would end up saving her. You see, there's more to Darcy's Department Store than meets the eye, and as young women start disappearing - including her only real friend - Maureen's apprehension and distrust grows.

Meanwhile, Katie Rose has become a rebellious handful, determined that at almost-14 she's fully capable of making her own decisions and claiming her prosperous American life. She mistakes Maureen's reluctance to discuss her fears as an acceptance of sorts, and wastes no opportunity to grind Maureen's shadowy, painful past into her face. Unable to comprehend the magnitude of Maureen's experiences, when Katie Rose finds herself in a similar situation later, her tune changes (but it's a long time coming). With so many pressing fears and distractions, combined with a growing longing for the God of Mrs. Melkford and Olivia Wakefield to be able to accept her, in all her scarlet glory, Maureen struggles with who to trust. As tensions and mystery intensify at Darcy's, she finally concedes and tells all she knows to Joshua Keeton - the boy from home who'd come over with them, and is persistently appearing where she least expects, or wants. Joshua then accompanies her to his employer (also a would-be suitor of Miss Olivia), and the three begin to play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. The goal: catch Drake Meitland (Olivia's brother-in-law, and the man who threw Maureen out) and whoever else is involved in the "white slave" trading take place in New York.

Band of Sisters is one of those heart-wrenching novels, because while Maureen's story is fiction - it's also so very real. This stuff really happened. And it's still happening. And it broke my heart. The whole story did: from her escape from Ireland to the battle to survive in America to her struggle with trust and faith and a perfect God Who somehow seems to care about her. Maureen's struggles as a human, as an immigrant, as a woman - they're real. And she's just a fictional 'figurehead' for countless women who find themselves sucked into the dark vortex of human trafficking. It challenged me. I've known it exists - I have friends who have picked various organizations to volunteer/raise funds for - but Band of Sisters touched me. While Maureen isn't a victim of the trafficking, she is a woman scarred by sexual transgressions - a victim of a man's selfish acts. Her plight, her struggle, is every bit as raw and aching as the women stolen in the night and shipped across state lines. The whole story, every bit of it, tore at my heart. (Which, in retrospect, I should have expected considering the emotional investment Gohlke wrangled from me with Promise Me This). It's a rough read in that respect, but it's also so amazing.

Book provided by publisher for review.

Now for a little Q&A with Cathy - Tyndale House was awesome enough to submit a number of questions for Cathy to answer, letting we bloggers pick the ones we wanted to feature. (So if you're following the tour and see a "repeat," that's why.)

What motivated you to write Band of Sisters?
I’ve always been fascinated by the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement. But I was horrified to learn that there are more than twice as many men, women and children enslaved today than at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This book was born of a passion to end modern-day slavery, and most of all, to ask, “What can I do to help in a need so desperate?”

Band of Sisters takes place in NYC. Do you think human trafficking is limited to large cities?
No. That is why raising awareness of the crime and education re. the methods used by traffickers is so important. Small, rural, isolated or poor communities are targets just as vulnerable as big cities. Traffickers often enter such communities with bogus offers of better jobs, modeling opportunities for young people, and offers for education. But those dreams are crushed when willing applicants are unwittingly sold as sex slaves or used for pornography, with no way to get back to their homes and families. In some cultures, once a girl has been so abused, she is no longer welcome to return to her family, thereby compounding the problem and sense of hopelessness. Education and understanding is desperately needed on all parts.

Issues of sex slavery and human trafficking are foreign to most of us and uncomfortable to discuss. How can Christians respond?
By speaking for those who have no voice. These are among the poor and needy of our day, in many cases the orphans that Jesus commanded us to care for.
We must remember that the discomfort is ours, and the desperate need is theirs. Being a Christian, a Christ follower, isn’t easy in a fallen world. Doing what Jesus did wasn’t easy or comfortable. He confronted demons and hypocrites. He stood against people who cared more about the monetary value of their livestock than they did about freeing one human being from demonic possession.
Jesus ate with “publicans and sinners” to the ruin of His reputation. Just as He is our example in loving one another and in protecting innocent young children, so He is our example in setting captives free, in loosening cords that bind, in rescuing women and children from prostitution, men from slavery.
In many countries of the world Christians pay with their lives for standing up for their faith and/or for protecting others. I’ve heard it said that only in America do we expect it to be easy to be a Christian. Talking about things that are uncomfortable to our sensibilities don’t seem so hard in comparison to the challenges our brothers and sisters in Christ face the world over.

If Band of Sisters was turned into a movie, which actors do you think would best portray what you imagined for your main characters? Can you describe a few main physical features that they have?
Maureen is striking—tall, slim, with thick, flaming red hair (tendrils escaping), and green eyes in a thin face. Victoria Smurfit, who played Hannah Randall in “Berkeley Square” could play Maureen’s role perfectly.
Joshua is also tall, broad shouldered, with black, thick curls, dark blue eyes, and the ruddy complexion of a man who’s worked outdoors all his life. Perhaps Hugh Dancy could play his role.
Olivia is lovely with dark upswept hair and brown eyes. She’s intelligent, with a quiet and cultured but determined air about her. I think Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abby, would be perfect.
Curtis is tall, slim, with dark brown eyes, curling dark hair, and alabaster skin. Perhaps Jamie Bamber could fill his role.

What spurs your writing?  
Writing has become my way of making sense of the world, of putting into perspective the struggles of humanity and of my own—past and present—of trying to see the world as God sees it, as He redeems it by pursuing and claiming one heart at a time. I want to know what gives Him joy, what breaks His heart—those are the stories that matter, the stories that bring me continually closer to Him.Frederick Buechner expressed it best, “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Finding that place spurs me on.

I hope this book has piqued your interest a little. It's not an easy read, but it's a good one. And I hope it reaches a place in your heart -- I know it did for me. If you want more information about the issue of human trafficking, or would like to know what else Cathy has written, check out her website:


  1. Oh.My. I came over (from Austenesque) to check your blog out. Loved this review! I'm putting on my TBR list. /s/ your newest follower!

  2. This sounds excellent- and like it would make me cry like a baby!

  3. I'm so glad you were caught up in "Band of Sisters," Rebecca--you've captured the story! Thank you for the excellent review and for helping to raise awareness of human trafficking. God's blessings for you--and maybe a box of tissues. : )