Mercy House – Alena Dillon

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Two eighty-four Chauncey Street. It’s the one with the angel doorknocker. Arrive any time. Day or night. You can be safe.”

Sisters Evelyn, Josephine and Maria have run Mercy House for twenty five years, providing a safe place for women who are escaping violence. Although they are undoubtably effective in their mission, they don’t always play by the strict rules of the Catholic Church.

“It’s what we’ve feared,” Josephine said. “It’s him.”

Bishop Hawkins is coming to visit Mercy House. His visit is part of the ‘nun-quisition’, which puts the actions of nuns under the microscope because of their “secular mentality” and “feminist spirit”. (Never mind that the same church actively moves priests between parishes and pays hush money to sweep much greater offences under the rug.) Besides the fear that the methods they employ in their ministry won’t stand up to close scrutiny, Evelyn has her own personal reasons for never wanting to see this ‘man of God’ again.

When you think of nuns, Evelyn is probably not who you have in mind. She loves what she does but still grumbles at getting woken up in the middle of the night when it’s her turn to answer the door. Her beliefs aren’t as strictly tied to her faith as you’d expect and if there’s a loophole that will produce better results, you can be sure she’ll find it.

Actually, none of the Sisters who run Mercy House line up with stereotypical nuns. Would you ever expect nuns to have a conversation like this?

“Crap baskets,” Maria said.

“Yeah. Major crap baskets,” Evelyn agreed.

Love it!

As much as I loved the three Sisters, I hated Hawkins and spent much of the book overcome by a seething fury, imagining all of the ways that I wanted to see him suffer. You don’t want to just angry your way through a book though. Fortunately there were some amazing women who balanced out my rage with wonder at their courage and resilience. These women are dealing with shame and secrets, and trying their best to survive their past.

While I liked each of the residents of Mercy House, it was Desiree who stood out, and for good reason. Desiree has this in your face brashness. She acts tough but she’s vulnerable as well, although she definitely doesn’t want you to acknowledge that part of her. She speaks her mind and oftentimes says what everyone else is thinking. You’d want to be her friend but she’d make a fierce enemy so don’t get on the wrong side of her. She was responsible for most of my smiles while I was reading.

“This is sweet and all, but we were promised we’d get pizza if we came to church. So …”

The women of Mercy House have been through some really difficult life experiences, none of which are glossed over. Please be safe while reading, especially if you are likely to be triggered by any of the content.

Although it made the narrative neater, it seemed unlikely to me that during the course of the book, no new residents came seeking refuge at Mercy House after we met Lucia.

I don’t know if publishers don’t know about readers like myself but whenever there’s a website included in a book I’m going to look it up. There’s a website in this book, SaveMercyHouse.com, that doesn’t exist. Given the book’s themes, I would have loved to have seen a page that represented what was mentioned in the book, along with details of relevant helplines and organisations that readers could donate to.

I think I understand why the author left the story where they do. Although there are many characters who make their mark on the lives and/or hearts of the nuns who run Mercy House, this story really is Evelyn’s. Her story ends with possibilities for the future but overall the book didn’t give me the answers I hoped for.

😇 Did Mercy House stay open?

😇 Was Evelyn ever called Sister again?

😇 What happened between Evelyn and Eloise?

😇 Were there any consequences for the bishop?

😇 Were there any consequences for John?

😇 What happened to the five Mercy House residents we got to know?

What wonders can be built from broken stuff.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, domestic violence, gun violence, homophobia, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn stands a century-old row house presided over by renegade, silver-haired Sister Evelyn. Gruff and indomitable on the surface, warm and wry underneath, Evelyn and her fellow sisters makes Mercy House a safe haven for the abused and abandoned. 

Women like Lucia, who arrives in the dead of night; Mei-Li, the Chinese and Russian house veteran; Desiree, a loud and proud prostitute; Esther, a Haitian immigrant and aspiring collegiate; and Katrina, knitter of lumpy scarves … all of them know what it’s like to be broken by men.

Little daunts Evelyn, until she receives word that Bishop Robert Hawkins is coming to investigate Mercy House and the nuns, whose secret efforts to help the women in ways forbidden by the Church may be uncovered. But Evelyn has secrets too, dark enough to threaten everything she has built.

Evelyn will do anything to protect Mercy House and the vibrant, diverse women it serves – confront gang members, challenge her beliefs, even face her past. As she fights to defend all that she loves, she discovers the extraordinary power of mercy and the grace it grants, not just to those who receive it, but to those strong enough to bestow it.

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