A story of rape and redemption and all she believes.

Through grit and grace, Carolyn Fandel survives being raped by someone she knows and trusts. She will not accept defeat—even when confronted by her rapist a second time. Instead, she uses her tragedy to help hundreds of others, some of whom she will never meet. Set in the era of the Vietnam War and the new feminism, this book will have you crying and cheering for Carolyn as she navigates the challenges of life after sexual assault.


She turned the corner into the kitchen, all but forgetting that this morning was her special time. Then she saw that the sewing machine had already been set up. The fabric choices and scissors were methodically laid out with the pattern they had previously selected. Her heart took an even deeper nosedive and dropped to the pit of her gut. 

Her mom sat sipping her coffee, waiting with an enormous smile of Dana Fandel enthusiasm. Her rosary was lying on top of the Bible. It was cracked open to Romans, Carolyn’s favorite book of the New Testament. Carolyn heaved a heavy sigh. Lord, I can’t do this.

On the table was a plate of raisin bran muffins, pats of butter, and a prepared half-grapefruit with sugar on top—components of Carolyn’s favorite breakfast. Her throat gulped as she forced a smile of appreciation toward her mother. 

It was unconvincing. Her mom took one glimpse at her face and could tell it was serious. “What is it, Doll?” As soon as Carolyn heard the term of endearment, she began to weep. 

Her mother stood up and drew Carolyn into her arms. While she sobbed, her mom whispered, “No matter what it is, everything will be okay.” Her mom continued to hold her, peppering her with questions trying to get to the bottom of it. “Were you not able to get your classes for the fall semester?’


“Did you and Paul decide to call off your special friendship?”


She dreaded having to tell her mother. The longer the interrogation went on, the more Carolyn was tempted to turn away, bolt out the door, and never come back.

“Carolyn, something is wrong. I have known it since the night of the dance. You will feel better if you tell me.” 

Oh, no, I won’t. 

“Whatever it is, we can fix it.” 

Oh, no, we can’t.


2021 American Fiction Awards:

Christian Inspirational

Religious Fiction

2021 IAN Book of the Year Awards:


#1 New Release Best-seller for Religious Historical Fiction (Amazon, May 2021)


“With equal measures of heartbreak and joy, Close to the Soul is a gripping novel that strikes every emotional chord.  It’s an escape to a simpler time where God is first and family is a close second. Thayer explores the resiliency of family bonds and is chock full of heart and devotion. This beautifully rendered debut novel left me dazzled and touched and ultimately hopeful. Fans of Francine Rivers will flock to this one!”

Lori Nelson Spielman

NYT’s international best-selling author of The Life List, Sweet Forgiveness, and the Star-crossed Sisters of Tuscany

“Close to the Soul is a beautifully written novel that weaves the story of redemption through every character on every page.  Edith Schafer once wrote that our lives are a tapestry, we are looking at the backside which is often messy and confusing, but God sees the beautiful work of art, each thread precisely woven together.  As a child conceived in rape, I have spent my life grappling with the questions this novel boldy addresses.  Mary Jo Thayer passionately portrays the way faith, family, and courage shine a light even in the darkest circumstances.  Taking this incredible journey with Carolyn, Paul, Phyllis and their families powerfully reminded me again, that even in those times our lives are chaotic and filled with pain, the Master Weaver is at work and each circumstance in our lives is woven expertly to give Him glory.”

Pam Stenzel

Enlighten Communications

“When I started reading Close to the Soul, I wasn’t sure how Mary Jo would approach this difficult topic. What a beautiful and inspiring story written in such a refreshing way that celebrates life, faith, love, redemption, strength of spirit, and family amidst a devastating challenge. I felt honored to read ‘Close to the Soul.”

Jim Sano

Author of The Father’s Son, Gus Busbi, and Stolen Blessing

“Wow! What a powerful and moving story. This is a book that landed on my desk at a very opportune time in my life. I had just found out I have a 25 year old daughter I did not know about. Reading this I could not help but think about this daughter and her mother. This is an amazing read. And an incredible debut novel. Christian fiction at its best. Excellent Catholic literature.”

Steven R. McEvoy

Book Reviews and More

“Mary Jo Thayer has written an uplifting tale, dealing sensitively at each step with the challenges and trials faced by women. Deep faith shines through her main character, Carolyn Fandel, and the decisions she makes in the wake of her trauma would provide encouragement to any woman and, indeed, to anyone who picks up the book to read it.”

Veronica Smallhorn

Author of A Channel of Your Peace

“What an uplifting and hopeful story that brought tears to my eyes more than once! Author Mary Jo Thayer brings insight to things I hadn’t ever considered. Her characters are genuine, making it easy to place myself in the time period. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Close to the Soul.”

Linda Etchison

Author of Sister Aloysius Comes to Mercyville