Can I let you in on a secret? I don’t like Amish fiction. Yeah. I don’t. That’s not to say I’ve never read Amish fiction that I enjoyed. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that when I hear someone suggest a book and it turns out to be Amish, I tend to tune out. Most feel like the same story, rehashed, reheated, regurgitated. No. Thanks. Notable exceptions: things like Sarah Price’s “Amish Classics” and Mindy Stearns Clark’s Shadows of Lancaster County. I’m sure there are more, but those stood out as a bit more original in immediate retrospect.
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So why would I sign up to read Amish fiction with CelebrateLit if I don’t like it?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, I like to challenge myself. When someone comes recommended, even if it’s not my genre, I try to be willing to be proven wrong. Second, this was a bit different in that this book takes place in 1736 or 1737! So, I signed up when I saw the title come up. I’ve never read anything by Suzanne Woods Fisher, and it’s the second book in the series. So it was kind of the acid test of the idea, but I tried it.
And I loved it!
My review of The Newcomer:
The story takes place circa 1730, and because of that, you have a unique storyline. This isn’t your hackneyed “sweet Amish girl untainted by the Englishers and pure as the wind-driven snow.” Nope. Thank goodness.
This also isn’t yet another story about quaint Amish people in tourist Lancaster County. These aren’t romanticized by the people in the area surrounding them. It’s a little like a city full of Catholics and some Baptists move in. There’s a difference in theology, and they don’t want to be influenced by beliefs they don’t agree with, but they’re not so far removed from those around them that they’re considered “quaint” or a novelty.
Better yet, Ms. Fisher didn’t romanticize them in the way that much of modern Amish fiction does. These characters are sinners. They have pride. And they deceive. They try to live their faith, and they fail. Just like Christians do in every church in every town in America. Sometimes Amish fiction can feel like that–like the sins the authors reluctantly give their characters are token sins.
“She wanted to protest–to insist that she wouldn’t serve the mean sheriff who handcuffed the criminal and hit the man when the man tried to dive for his gun. No! Oh, but she must. She must! She must turn that other–“
Gag. You won’t find that nonsense in this book. Thank you, Ms. Fisher.
Add do that a well-researched book, and you have a compelling story that not once did I go, “Wait. That’s anachronous. They didn’t have wristwatches in 1736!!!” Considering that I almost always find something, I consider this important.
Word choice. Another of the problems I tend to find in historical fiction is that often the authors use words that either are too modern for the era or feel too modern. I think it happened a couple of times in this book because I recall having a “blip” moment where I was pulled out, but the storyline popped me right back in. I can’t tell you what they were. They were that minor.
However, there was one… Look, I don’t know when the old “glass half full or half empty” saying was first spoken, but it feels crazy modern. It jerked me out of the story so fast it wasn’t even funny. But really. REALLY? That’s the only thing that fully jerked me out? It’s pretty impressive, don’t you think?
And of course, the cover. Look at that cover. She looks Amish. Excess makeup that makes her look like an Amish cover girl? NOPE! Is she wearing makeup for the photo? Probably. But who cares? She doesn’t LOOK like she has mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and lipstick. That’s not always the case.
But that isn’t anywhere near the best part.
In all great books, there will be a quote–one that just stands out from the rest and lingers in your heart long after you may have forgotten the details of the story. Often these quotes are life-changing in some way. Lawanna Blackwell’s Courtship of the Vicar’s Daughter taught me how to encourage people trying to make life changes to focus on today. Don’t try to change your life forever. Just focus on making that change today. Start over again tomorrow. And just worry about tomorrow… well, tomorrow.
This book has one of those enduring quotes. I wanted to share the whole paragraph because it’s that good.
But Felix had no doubt Bairn would know how to solve this problem. He could fix anything. He was a fine leader, his brother. Even Squivvers said so. The sailor told him that the best leaders were the ones who didn’t even realize they were leaders. “Good leaders don’t try to grasp it,” Squivvers had said “They live a life worthy of being followed.”
Does that describe Jesus or WHAT? It’s Mark 10:42-43 in 1736 or 1737 by that point?!! The quote is so good that I missed the mixed pronouns the first time or two. And while I generally don’t care about mixed pronouns when I’m just reading for pleasure, I root them out like crazy in mine, so I’ve gotten rather obsessive about finding them and noting them. I didn’t even see it this time. I liked the quote so much, I made a shareable image. Consider sharing. I’m sure the author would appreciate it. I know I do when people share mine!
Psst… isn’t that name, “Squivvers” AWESOME? I swear, I’d give this book five stars just for that!
Suzanne Woods Fisher really created a unique story with interesting twists and turns. The first book in this series, Anna’s Crossing, is probably equally excellent, and reading this book sold me on buying that one. Okay, the 1.99 price tag didn’t hurt either. I mean, c’mon. 1.99 for an excellent novel (as of 2/12/17). WOOT!
Usually, I’d offer this book four and a half stars. It was interesting, it had great plot twists, it wasn’t predictable or hackneyed, and the author managed to make me care about characters I didn’t even like. I really liked this book. I almost loved it, and Amazon’s star rating says 5 stars is for loved.
But even though I just almost loved it, I’m giving it five stars because, for Amish Fiction, I did love it. It’s the best Amish fiction I’ve ever read. I’m buying the first one. And, I’m waiting with both bated and baited (so please hurry and save my family death by halitosis, Ms. Fisher!) breath for the next. That means five stars in my book. Actually, thinking of it that way, I’d love to give it five and a half!
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