If you go

What: Reading, Q&A and “Moon Over Edisto” book signing with Beth Webb Hart

When: 1 p.m. March 16

Price: Free

Where: Barnes & Noble, 1812 Sam Rittenberg Blvd., West Ashley

It might well be the toughest item on a Christian faithful’s to-do list: fulfilling God’s charge to forgive.

Yet it is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus’ followers believe he died so they could be forgiven of their sins — and God tells those same followers to be forgiving themselves.

But could you forgive your father and best friend whose betrayals destroyed your family?

Charleston author Beth Webb Hart, popular for her five previous novels, all with gentle Christian undercurrents, tackles this challenge in her new book, “Moon Over Edisto.”

The novel, released Feb. 12, revolves around a Charleston native named Julia. For years, she brought her best college friend to spend summers at her family’s Edisto Island cottage. But when the friend, Marney, and Julia’s father have an affair, it pitches the entire family into a turbulent sea of anger, resentment and loss.

Now grown and a successful artist in New York, Julia is horrified when Marney suddenly shows up on her Manhattan doorstep.

Julia’s father recently passed away. Now, Marney has lung cancer — and a request.

Would Julia return to Edisto to care for her half siblings?

Given that Julia despises Marney and has never even met the three children Marney had with her father, she has no intention of helping.

Yet the alternative is worse: Marney will ask Julia’s devastated mother to watch the kids.

So Julia returns to Edisto and embarks down the sandy path to forgiveness.

“It is the most difficult of things, yet we are commanded to do it,” Hart says. “I know God forgives me. So how can I not forgive?”

Called to stories

Now 41, Hart wrote her first novel, “Grace at Low Tide,” while earning her master’s in fine arts for fiction writing.

The novel took five years to write but earned her a six-book contract with Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson.

Her other novels include “Adelaide Pipe,” “Love, Charleston,” “Sunrise on the Battery” and “The Wedding Machine” (her best-selling novel to date). Several have topped Christian best-seller lists.

“Moon Over Edisto” already is enjoying praise.

“Ms. Webb Hart shows superb skill in delving deep into the heart of a dysfunctional family,” a New York Journal of Books reviewer wrote.

And a Publishers Weekly reviewer added, “Hart’s rich detail enhances each element, from the mouth-watering menus to the soul-wrenching confrontations, in this engaging and thought-provoking tale.”

Her novels are thought-provoking because they confront real-life issues on her own mind — and many of her readers’ minds. They are often life issues, those hallmarks of suffering that many people face.

For instance, she wrote “Adelaide Pipe,” about a girl who is date-raped in college — a tragedy Hart saw up close when two girls on her college hall became victims their freshmen years. Adelaide, like many young adults, must find her faith to move beyond the horrible pain in her past.

“God sort of meets me in the story,” Hart says.

“Moon Over Edisto” arose from a real-life acquaintance who endured a similar betrayal by her father, along with many of Hart’s friends who suffered their baby boomer parents’ breakups.

“Even in the happiest of lives, there is hurt,” Hart says. “Everybody has been wronged in some way they don’t deserve. But you can’t have faith and accept grace without forgiveness.”

She often emerges from the writing process, and the searching and struggling that come with it, with a far greater understanding of a problem.

In “Moon Over Edisto,” for instance, Julia is called to return home despite being engaged and enjoying a fine career in New York. Yet she finds her roots and a more fulfilling future, although it is not what she wanted or expected.

“She was being called to something different,” Hart says. “You can’t necessarily escape the mess. You can be called to serve in a way you don’t want.”

New paths

Originally, publisher Thomas Nelson wanted books with more subtle religious messages than some Christian publishers who want overt conversion stories, for instance. Hart wholeheartedly agreed.

But as the economy soured, the publisher leaned toward novels with overt Christian messages that more clearly could be placed, and more reliably sold, on Christian book shelves. She grappled with the balance.

“I just wrote what was on my mind,” she says. “A story is a story, and it can be a gift.”

That gift, she feels, is best offered to all readers, not only Christian ones. She compares it to the Great Commission to go forth and reach all people.

Now that contract is fulfilled. Hart, a downtown mother of two married to a composer, is considering her life’s next chapter.

She would like to find a secular publisher and is fleshing out ideas for a middle-grade novel and another about an older woman trying to get her family back together.

She’d also like to return to teaching. She’s already received two national teaching awards from Scholastic, served as writer-in-residence at Ashley Hall and taught as an adjunct professor at the College of Charleston.

For now, she’s grateful to be able to write full time, something most authors never achieve.

“You can’t expect to make a living as a writer,” she advises students. “You do it because you love it.”

No place like home

When author Pat Conroy endorsed “Moon Over Edisto,” he noted the importance of Hart’s setting. Which is to say, the importance of the setting to her.

“Beth Webb Hart knows South Carolina’s fabled lowcountry well and shares her knowledge with skill, wisdom, and beauty,” he wrote on the cover.

Lowcountry settings embrace all of Hart’s novels. She grew up in North Litchfield and spent long summers on Edisto, as did several of her characters.

“People are fascinated by the Lowcountry, especially Charleston,” Hart says.

A couple from Switzerland recently read one of her books translated into German. They visited Charleston simply because they loved the setting so much.

In “Moon Over Edisto,” when Julia arrives on Edisto for the first time since Marney’s betrayal, the healing embrace of the thick salt air and pluff mud aroma is tangible.

“It was like a balm or salve that calmed her heart,” says Hart, who believes nature can help cultivate emotional health.

Hart knows. Her family has had summer homes on Edisto, and she has spent much time there.

“You step into another world when you go over that bridge,” she says.

Sort of like opening the pages of a book.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or subscribe to her at www.facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.