Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found…
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.
Sure, I’d heard of John Newton, the former slave ship captain. But who was Polly Catlett? Jody Hedlund has written some great novels about famous Christian relationships of history, so I’m hoping to both enjoy and learn something from this book.
Jody Hedlund’s latest foray into biographical historical romance takes us to the early years of Amazing Grace writer, John Newton, at a time when he lived a distinctly non-Christian life. He was still a teenager when he met his distant relation, Polly Catlett, but he was immediately taken with her. He stayed numerous times with the Catlett family, but it was after one of these visits that he was pressganged into serving with the Royal Navy. Newton and Polly focuses on the period before and after this event, including John’s misdeeds.
What I knew of John Newton before reading this book was extremely limited. I knew he was involved with the slave trade, but not to what extent. I didn’t know that he was learned but uncouth, charming but without ambition. He was often absence without leave from the vessels on which he served. Even after falling in love with Polly, he appeared to lack the maturity to live the steady life required of a man looking to marry. I understood why Mr. Catlett didn’t readily approve of him. It was only after five years of indenture and near death in a storm that he realized that, like Jonah, he’d been running from God and turned his life around.
Jody Hedlund’s novel appears to stay true to what I’ve since read about John Newton’s life, although she admits to altering some minor detail and creating a subplot involving smuggling. It’s an ugly story at times. There are brief passages of violence, references to dishonorable behavior, and descriptions of ill-treatment of slaves. And, although there are references to the lyrics of Amazing Grace, the writing of the song itself isn’t included since that happened many years later.
Thank you to Waterbrook and Blogging for Books for my complimentary copy of Newton and Polly, which I received in exchange for my honest review.
Have you read Newton and Polly? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Waterbrook (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: 20 September 2016
Page Count: 400