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Book Review: The Choice
Last October I was sitting at a conference organized by my agent, listening to a presentation by an acquisitions editor at one of the large Christian houses. She said that five years ago, roughly, she had urged everyone to start trying to find more authors on all things Amish. Beverly Lewis owned the Top Fiction category with her Amish novels, and nobody else was doing it.

Since then there have been an explosion of Amish novels, and my 15-year-old daughter has gobbled them up. She can't get enough of them. I like them, too, though I'm not quite as much of a fan.

But I can see the appeal. It's really about the lure of a simple life, when choices are obvious. It's either this or that. There aren't a lot of grey areas; it's about learning life lessons and integrating them, while still living with very defined rules. The choices aren't as difficult as they are in the "real world" somehow because you don't have the range of decisions we do. We have to decide what to do with our free time; Amish do not. They quilt or they can or they milk the cow, because if they don't, they have no food. It's a life of work, but satisfying work, and somehow the things that can drive us crazy don't enter into their world.

Instead, their big issues are the Big Issues: acceptance, forgiveness, dedication to God, love. They're the issues we wish that we could deal with, but we find hard because technology or school or jobs or politics get in the way. If we could strip away the confines of modern life, and live a simpler life, perhaps we would be able to focus better on these trials and decisions and life-changing moments that the Amish characters face in these novels.

The most recent one we read was Suzanne Woods Fisher's The Choice, the first book in the Lancaster County series. It was a lovely read, thick with tension between what others want you to do and what you want you to do. It had the characters you love to hate, and the ones you want so desperately to choose right. And, as most Amish novels do, there's always the secrets from people's lives in the outside world that intrude, and threaten to shatter the peace they have built for themselves. And then, at the end, the characters realize that peace isn't something you achieve by living by strict rules and cordoning yourself off from the world; it's something that is only achieved when one gives oneself fully to God.

In the book, Carrie Weaver settles into a marriage of convenience when her father dies suddenly, and she has no way of caring for her younger brother. As she meets tragedy after tragedy, she comes to recognize, too late, the love that she did feel for a complicated man with his own secrets. Then her heart has to choose whether to trust another, or whether to try to go on her own. And in the end, she chooses well.

Like most Amish novels, it's a great escape, and causes you to wonder afterwards if perhaps all this technology and modern convenience actually makes life more difficult. On the other hand, I don't think I could live off of my canning abilities, and I am rather fond of lipstick, so I don't think I could make it as an Amish woman. We live near a small community of Amish, and my closest friends live in the largest Amish community in Canada, where they work as doctors, so we've seen the culture close up. It's a very hard life for a woman, and they do look old before their time. But in the novels, you can forget about what people look like without moisturizer when you've had 11 kids by the age of 35, and just concentrate on the essential truths: what is the point of life? How do you find peace? Is it imposed by the outer rules and regulations, or is it something worth striving for yourself?

The sole downside of this novel for me is that it reminded me of a scene from Anne of Green Gables, when Anne is trying to form a story club with her girlfriends. All are to write short stories, and Diana Barry proves rather imagination-challenged. In the end, she just keeps killing off the characters because she can never figure out what to do with them. I felt that way a little bit reading this book. Too many people die, and I don't think all the deaths were integral to the plot. My daughter commented that she found herself scared to like anybody in case they were taken out soon, too. Personally, I would have preferred to see the love between Carrie and her first husband blossom, and help them both to face their demons, rather than the tragedy that did occur. But I can understand why Suzanne Fisher did it that way.

Fisher is a good voice for the Amish novel, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them. But perhaps we should all examine ourselves a little bit more and ask what the appeal is. If we really do yearn for a simpler life, maybe instead of reading so much about it, we should just do it. Concentrate on what matters. Get rid of technological distractions. Make the family hearth the centre of the family. Sounds good to me.


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At 11:37 AM , Blogger Cilla said…

interesting that I've just read a blog that warns against Amish novels, because they are not what the Amish are really about.


At 1:04 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

I think you're right, Cilla. As I've said, my friends who work in an Amish community do say that many of the women suffer from depression. It is not an easy life.

However, I still think the appeal is not because it is Amish per se; I think it's because it raises the question: what if life could be reduced to what really mattered? What if we really could get rid of all the distractions? If it's read in that light, I don't have a big problem with it.

Interesting, though, that the authors who do show the Amish life in such a positive light do not themselves choose to be Amish!


At 10:05 PM , Blogger Mrs W said…

I don't want to sound mean or rude, because that is not the intent, and I'm smiling while I write this. In my opinion, Amish novels are boring and overrated lol. And, there are far too many Amish stories. In fact, I can't stand the lack of substance in most "Christian" fiction. Throwing a few Jesus loves me's or religious lines doesn't mean a book has a good Christian message. I find most Christian fiction and especially Amish novels (and a lot of Amish aren't even Christian because they are trusting in their works instead of Christ) to be lacking in any substance, and I believe they do a disservice to Christianity.


At 10:46 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Mrs. W., I agree with you about most Christian novels. You'd never know they were Christian except for on three pages someone accepts Christ, and then that's the end of it!

I do actually find that in Amish books the gospel is presented pretty well, compared to most Christian novels, because usually the main character is coming to grips with what grace actually means in the midst of a community that does emphasize works. There's always someone who has had a truly born again experience who is trying to influence the other Amish. That's certainly the case in this book.

However, a lot of Christian fiction leaves me underwhelmed, too. I think my favourite author is still Randy Alcorn. He's awesome at showing the power of grace and the reality of the spiritual in the everyday life. Really uplifting.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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