Did you know that here in the U.S. we have our own, Church approved, Marian apparition site? You don’t have to travel to foreign soil to make such a pilgrimage- you need only go as far as Green Bay, WI, and visit the humble chapel, on beautiful grounds. My husband and I journeyed there in 2018, when we were discerning if we were being called to adopt a child, as so far I’d been unable to carry one to term. The answer was yes, we were! Needless to say, we’ve developed a devotion to Our Lady of Good Help, whose feast day is today, October 9th. It was she who appeared to a young Belgian immigrant girl named Adele Brise, in 1859, in Champion, WI.
Of course, when I had heard that Theoni Bell had written an historical fiction book about the apparition called The Woman in the Trees, it jumped on to my Christmas list! It didn’t take me too long to finish it, once I’d received it, but it was an intriguing read. And the style, length and and subject matter would work wonderfully for any teen looking for a good book to cozy up with this fall. Especially as it follows the tale of a young heroine.
I was admittedly surprised to discover that the heroine of the book was not Adele! Though Adele was a young woman when visited by The Queen of Heaven, the story of The Woman in the Trees is largely told through the eyes of a fictional girl named Slainey. Slainey’s story starts with a flash forward. She wakes up, a young mother in her little cabin, in the deep woods of Wisconsin. Slainey realizes that outside of her home a blazing fire is headed her way. It is the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. After gathering her family and a few belongings, the question remains- where to go?
The answer to Slainey’s question comes much later, as the book jumps back to the true beginning of her story- Belgium in 1859, 12 years before the fire. From there the chapters count down to that great event, and we get to learn about Slainey her family, their immigration to America, and the harsh challenges of homesteading life. We also witness the meeting of Slainey and Adele, and their subsequent crossing of paths. Adele has been faithful to Our Lady’s request that she teach the children of that “wild country” their catechism, and prepare them for receiving the sacraments. Adele intrigues Slainey, and their relationship slowly grows as the book progresses.
A small chapel had been built in the area, at the apparition site, and it becomes a fixture in the story. Our Lady had appeared to Adele between two trees, a maple and a hemlock, and this is where the book derives its title.
In The Woman in the Trees, Theoni’s writing style is both lovely and succinct. From the many, many details she includes about frontier life and the Belgian community, you can tell that the book is very well researched. She also weaves a fair bit of catechesis throughout the book; it flows naturally as this was Adele’s main job!
If you have a young person in your life who enjoys a good historical yarn, and who you’d like to aid in their faith, I can’t recommend this book more! And if you want to learn more about our only Marian Apparition site deemed “Worthy of Belief,” check it out for yourself as well.
Author: Theoni Bell
Cover Artwork: Chris Lewis
Soon to be Published by Tan Books!