“In this emotionally charged novel, the post-traumatic stress of a Korean War veteran affects his entire family’s well-being. In 1960’s Ohio, Frank lives with his wife Adele and daughters, Ann Marie and Jolene, but suffers from an increasing number of psychotic events in which he believes that he is still in war-torn Korea. His young daughters frequently fear for their lives as he confuses reality with delusions and sometimes believes he is back in combat in Korea and his daughters are the enemy. The continued emotional trauma is palpable and very real as it gradually destroys the family. Though the initial pace is slow, the novel gains momentum in a well-crafted plotline as the author reveals the family’s hidden secrets. The complexity of the familial relationships is a main focus of the story and the volatility of the family relationships is increased by Adele’s inability to defend her daughters in the face of Frank’s erratic and dangerous behavior. The result is an intense and heartbreaking story of the fallout of war.” —Publishers Weekly

“This is a story that will run you through an emotional marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Rarely do you find a novel or a writer than can reach inside the reader to evoke such strong feelings but Shelli Johnson’s ‘Small as a Mustard Seed’ is that one in a million story. The story’s central quandary is the question we must all answer at points in our lives; can we find the capacity to genuinely forgive and let go of resentment. The challenge in this story is that after Jolie and Ann Marie suffer so much irrevocable harm to from their parents, how can either cope, let alone forgive. And if they cannot forgive, what price will they pay in harboring these unsettled feelings? For both girls it will be profound. We’re introduced to Ann Marie, our ten year-old main character, who guides us through a turbulent decade living with her schizophrenic father Frank, by-standing mother Adele and rebellious sister Jolie. It’s November 1965 and already Jolie seems to bare the brunt of Frank’s delusional wrath, slowly pulling the sisters apart and leaving Ann Marie to watch helplessly. Frank’s mind is muddled in delusions exacerbated by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), after his firsthand experience of the horrors of war on the frontlines in Korea. Frank brings the war home and his children suffer his physical, emotional and mental abuse, and their mother’s unwillingness to protect them challenges even their smallest hope of delivery from madness. Follow Ann Marie’s journey as the years pile on the grief and tear away at her scant bits of faith. You’ll be pulled inside the turmoil of Ann Marie’s search for answers, only to discover new unearthed tragedies under each layer of truth. Shelli Johnson’s descriptive writing and ability to communicate feelings are the remarkable tools that pull you inside the story. I found a few bright moments that made me chuckle but the anguish she expressed through her characters manifested in my own stomach. I felt aching sadness for this family and desperately searched the pages to find some tiny shred of peace for them. I was angry with the demons that stole Frank’s soul and equally furious with Adele’s misguided loyalty. There were moments where even this steely veteran could no longer contain the lump in my throat or the hurt in my heart. This was the most powerful novel I’ve read in many years because Johnson’s uncanny ability as a writer allows us to share an experience that echoes the questions and challenges we face in our own lives. Through the pain of Ann Marie’s family, Johnson gives us an opportunity to reevaluate our personal choices and face that central struggle; can faith as small as a mustard seed be enough to help us let go and forgive, or will we pay the price to hold on to resentment? You will rarely find a story that can captivate your feelings and touch your soul like this one. I’ve not read its match in evoking so much emotional power and circumspection since Mitch Albom gave us ‘Tuesday’s With Morrie’. This is a must read for any adult looking for a real story. It is far and away one of the most significant reading experiences I’ve ever had.”—Tom Clementson, Kindle Book Review

Such beautiful language and rich imagery.” —A. Manette Ansay, author of Vinegar Hill, an Oprah Book Club selection

Stunning. Absolutely stunning.” —Mort Castle, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Moon on the Water

“Johnson weaves words as fluidly as a seamstress weaves threads. The story flows effortlessly, pulling the reader along from one riveting scene to the next. It’s brilliantly and ruthlessly told.” —Janet Britton, author of To Live Each Moment

“With much urgency and authority, Shelli Johnson immediately engages the reader. This is a real page turner, a gripping tale of a family blown apart by tragedy. Yet, ultimately, the novel is redeeming as well, told through the viewpoint of a heroine who will both break and mend your heart. This is a stunning debut novel to what I know will be a stunning career.” —Sue William Silverman, author of Love Sick

Grand prize winner of the Writer’s Digest International Book Award, Small As A Mustard Seed by Shelli Johnson is a superbly crafted and reader engaging novel which focuses upon the personal struggle of 10 year old Ann Marie to understand and deal with her father’s mental illness which have their origins in the trauma of his service in the Korean War. When Ann Marie returns home after an absence of 26 years she must continue to deal with issues that not only divided the family of her childhood, but influenced and affected each family member’s future — including her own. Author Shelli Johnson draws upon her experience and expertise as an award-winning journalist and short-story writer in her debut effort as a full-length novelist to create believable characters in complex familial relationships of struggle, strength, vulnerability, and hope. Simply put, Small As A Mustard Seed is a terrific read from first page to last.” —Midwest Book Review

“Shelli Johnson’s first novel is well written, carefully edited, and peopled with real characters readers will care about. The story that unfolds is so compelling that it’s hard to put the book down. One of the most engrossing aspects of the book is its attention to details. In every scene, Johnson paints a complete picture for the reader.” —Myrna Petlicki, Oak Leaves newspaper, Oak Park, Illinois

“What most impressed me about this book was the language and tone rich with emotional weight. Setting up such a tone from the beginning of the story and following it closely to the end intensifies the heartbreaking events that occur. In fact, most of the elements, like vivid imagery, authentic dialogue, and gestures, fuel the story’s emotional depth and resonate mood for the reader.” —Judge’s comments, Writer’s Digest

Small as a Mustard Seed is a momentum building, emotional rollercoaster read. Shelli Johnson’s impressive ability to make her main character, Ann Marie, so credible led to my believing that I was reading an autobiography. This is a very well written story of a young girl growing up in a dysfunctional family in the sixties and seventies. With a father suffering from physical and serious emotional injuries as a result of his participation in the Korean War, and a seemingly uncaring mother, Ann Marie and her sister try to cope with life. While the story explicitly depicts the possible effects on a family of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the author does so without making PTSD the central theme of her book. The family and its flaws make up the setting for the story. The story is about Ann Marie and her struggle to understand. The majority of the novel is set in the years Ann Marie spends growing up with her parents, but the author does a good job of bringing the story back together at a point when she is a lot older. In Small as a Mustard Seed, Shelli Johnson has written an extremely good story that I highly recommend to any fan of fiction. Put it on your list of “must reads.” —Bob Doerr, Military Writers Society of America

“I didn’t read the summary before I started this book, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. This book turned out to be incredible. It’s not something that I wouldn’t usually read, but from the minute I started I just couldn’t put it down. The first chapter just captured me completely.  It is emotionally gripping with characters so real. Ann Marie was the character I connected with most. Always holding emotions inside. She had to carry so much grief and eventually had to learn to let it go. Go find a nice comfy spot before you start this book because you will not want to put it down until it’s finished.  A story full of struggle, heartache, faith, and forgiveness. Small as a Mustard Seed was such a powerful novel, one that I’m so glad to have read.”—Shelby Rodewald, Words To Follow blog