The Brother’s Keeper Reviews

Boooklist Starred Review

“Groot’s lyrical and affecting first novel, The Brother’s Keeper, is the story of James, brother of Jesus. With Joseph dead, James has been left to mind the store. Jesus is a wild man, maybe a Zealot, maybe an Essene, but in any case, his preaching has offended both the Sanhedrin and the Roman authority, and tragedy looms. James senses this but soldiers on, trying to hold together his fragile extended family and his business–even as tourists show up, anxious to steal shavings from the shop floor. In the end, James understands that “he [Jesus] had to be somebody’s brother.” James, rather like Martha in Joyce Landorf’s bittersweet I Came to Love You Late (1977), is an empty vessel when the furies descend upon his brother, and then he is filled up again.”

John Mort Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Christian Fiction Review

“The more I think about this review, the more praiseworthy items I find. I’d better get it written before it sounds too gushing.

The story of Jesus’ brothers is hinted at in the Bible, but never fully developed. We know that they did not believe in Christ, at least at first, but that something changed along the way. Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection, and James became the leader of the Jerusalem church. Both James and Jude wrote books of the Bible. So what happened to change their minds?

Tracy Groot has done an outstanding job in telling their story… and much more. The Brother’s Keeper is far more than the story of James, although that is its central plotline.

The sons of Joseph had a successful carpentry business, until the oldest ran off and started preaching everywhere and doing miracles. Suddenly, business isn’t so good and strange things keep happening. Zealots show up at the carpentry shop, hoping to enlist the family of Jesus for their cause. And the strangest visitors have yet to arrive…

Through a brilliant twist (that should have been obvious) on the Shema, the Jewish prayer, Groot brings the love of God to new heights.
I wanted to dislike this book when I picked it up. It begins with one of the Wise Men, characters whom I’ve always felt have been misunderstood in virtually every fiction portrayal (and this is no exception). In addition, fiction set during the life of Christ has often suffered over two huge problems: 1. How can any human being write about Jesus, the perfect man, realistically? It’s virtually impossible to do. Our imaginations, even if “baptized” in all that is Christian, are still flawed and cannot fully portray that which is not flawed. 2. Poor historical research often hinders a good story set in this time period.

Groot avoids both of those problems. She’s done her research, and while one could quibble with various details (like the Wise Men), it does nothing to detract from an outstanding story. Plus, Jesus virtually never appears in person in the story, except through flashbacks, which only portray actual Scriptural events. Yet His presences is felt on every page. That’s an impressive achievement.

As I said, this is far more than the story of James. It’s also the story of Jude, and the story of Simon, and Joses, the other thre brothers. It’s the story of Nathaniel, James’ apprentice in the carpentry shop. And there’s more. Though the story begins rather slowly, by the time a crisis rolls around, I found myself deeply involved in these characters, and desperate to find out what happened to them.

More than anything, I gained new appreciation for the love of God. Through a brilliant twist (that should have been obvious) on the Shema, the Jewish prayer, Groot brings the love of God to new heights. Her portrayal of a couple of other events from Scripture sent me back to the Bible to re-read the passages related to those, always a good thing.

I was also relieved and very impressed that Groot really respects her readers’ intelligence. There is a lot of foreshadowing in this story, some of it blatantly obvious. Yet she never hammers it home when it’s fulfilled. She doesn’t even draw attention to many of them, leaving it to the reader to realize what has happened. Some of the intricacies will only be captured by someone who has studied their New Testament. Imagine it. An author who is willing to let the readers grasp a concept, rather than spell it out for them. Outstanding.

Amazingly, all of the character arcs come to excellent conclusions, with one obvious exception. And that exception is taken care of in the sequel Stones of My Accusers (review coming soon). What else can I say? Highly Recommended.”

Tim Frankovich,