Sarah Salter 

Sarah Salter is a graduate of Methodist College with a BA in English. An employee of the NC Church Education Ministries of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC), her work has appeared in Methodist College’s Tapestry magazine and Evangel, the monthly magazine of the IPHC. She is a member of ACFW and is currently working on her first novel. Sarah travels regularly with short term medical mission teams, but makes her home in Central NC with her dog, Sadie. Visit her website at

Hidden Places

A Novel by Lynn Austin

Aunt Batty took me in her arms...
“When everyone else is gone, Eliza, God is still here.”

Hidden PlacesI had seen the movie Hidden Places advertised on TV several times. I think that at one time I actually saw a few minutes of it. But in my busy household, where television is often relegated to background noise while I’m cleaning, eating dinner, or writing, I never sat down and watched the movie, even though Hidden Places was on my going-to-read and going-to-watch list—which incidentally gets longer and longer every day—I had just never gotten around to actually reading or watching it.

Around Christmastime, I finally decided that it was time to tackle them. I bought a used copy of the book online, but when I pulled up the TV schedule, expecting to find this movie, it wasn’t listed. Going to Plan B, I sent my dad to his local Christian store to look for a copy, but they didn’t carry it! Finally, I found it in the sale bin at a usually overpriced store.

It was worth the trouble.

After the death of her husband and then her father-in-law, Eliza Wyatt was alone with three children to feed and an orchard to run during the height of the Great Depression. Her husband’s crazy old Aunt Betty (whom everybody called Batty because, well, she was batty) prayed for God to send Eliza an angel to help her, but when a dirty, starved, deathly sick, homeless man shows up on her back porch, Eliza is pretty sure that it isn’t an answer to prayer. But what if she’s wrong?

As Gabe lies delirious and fevered in the guest room, things go from bad to worse. The bank is closing and they call the loan on the house and orchard. To search for the answer to her problems, Eliza is going to have to face her own carefully buried past, as well as Aunt Batty’s, and the stranger’s. But is even that going to be enough to save her family?

Lynn Austin’s Christy Award–winning book was a treat to read. I typically favor suspenseful, edgy plots. And although this book is historical fiction, the story was so skillfully crafted and intricately layered that there was a perfect balance of drama and tension. It not only kept my attention, but it was all I could do not to read ahead to find out how everything worked out. Even better, Austin surprised me by resolving each conflict and each character in a completely unpredictable way.

As the title intimates, the book is about the hidden places in the lives, histories, and hearts of the characters. As the story unfolds, Austin opens up the characters at their seams—one stitch at a time—much the way God opens His children when it is time to make changes in our lives. One of my favorite parts was how as each character’s flaws and sins were brought to light, the character was pointed to God to fix and heal them. It made the story seem like a parable about the possibility of redemption.

The movie version of Hidden Places was enjoyable as well. Directed by Yelena Lanskaya, the cast boasted veteran actors

Jason Gedrick as the male lead, Gabe Harper; Shirley Jones as supporting actress, Aunt Batty; Barry Corbin as the sheriff; and Tom Bosley as the cranky banker, Mr. Wakefield. Long-time soap opera actress, Sydney Penny, had the lead role of Eliza Wyatt.

This movie adaptation was like many other adaptations I’ve written about in this column, in that it was a valiant attempt to squeeze a four hundred twenty-nine page book into an eighty-six minute movie. There is just no way to encapsulate that much content and context into so small a format. So, as a reader and watcher, I ask myself questions that help me to decide the success of the movie.

First, does the movie’s theme match the original theme found in the novel? Sadly, while this is a good movie, I have to say that no, the theme of the movie is different from the novel’s. While the novel’s theme focuses on excavating the secret and hidden sins, hurts, and lessons of the past, the movie’s theme is centered around the plot of saving the orchard. While saving the orchard is important to the book, the deeper context is about the state of the hearts of the characters. The movie addresses that only tangentially.

This leads to my second question: Because the novel and movie carry the label of “Christian,” does their story convey a message that exemplifies Christ? I am ambivalent about this. While the movie does not come across as unchristian in any way, the Christian message is understated. Outside of saying grace at meals and a few timely statements by Aunt Batty, there is no overt link between this movie and Christ. Out of all of the differences between the novel and the movie, I found myself least able to overlook one of the main points of the book, which was for the characters to learn to trust God rather than man. But in the movie, Gabe, the sheriff, and other men are looked to as savior figures. As a Christian watching a Christian movie, that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

This month, I am choosing the bookstore over the box office. While the movie was a nice, sweet, feel-good film that I would easily recommend for family movie night, I feel that the book has too much precious truth to miss. Hidden Places is a well-written, entertaining, and inspirational read.