A young man and a young woman with hope of marriage; conflict between wants, traditions and needs; the quilting bees, the gardening, and the hard and spotless work in the kitchen; the Kapps, aprons and straw hats; the practically idyllic life in Hickory Hollow… All of it is in this book. And from this point of view, there is nothing new in this new Amish novel by Beverly Lewis. Actually, I would dare say that the situations depicted in the book are highly impossible. Alas! This is a fiction work after all and, despite all the expected features of a Beverly Lewis book, she manages to create a love story through which we see the characters deal with conflict in a beautiful manner (excepting for Cora Jane, the obnoxious brat) that only someone with a strong commitment to biblical principles would make us of. Mrs. Lewis summarizes it as follows: “…we’re all here by design… that none of us is an accident in God’s eyes. Our heavenly Father’s hand is at work in all of our comings and goings – and in the choice of a life mate (p. 312).” That’s the main beauty of this book.
The story revisits Joanna, the kind young woman who is introduced in “The Fiddler,” the first book of this series. She has gone on with her life in Hickory Hollow, and the reader learns that she has been at the altar several times, always as a bridesmaid. Cora Jane reminds her that “three times a bridesmaid, never a bride,” and Joanna can’t help but think that some people already consider her to be a spinster at her age. However, she meets Eben when the family travels to another Amish community, and her whole outlook on her life shifts. Distance does not aid their relationship, which is also hindered by Joanna’s commitment to her church, Eben’s duty to his father’s farm, and Cora Jane’s (Joanna’s younger sister) selfishness and inability to cope with change. The largest part of the book describes the hardships Joanna and Eben have to face to nurture their relationship from afar.
The end is farfetched and a bit too convenient but, despite my chuckles at the unlikeness of the odds, it didn’t keep me from savoring the richness of conclusion, wrapped in the details of Amish culture – particularly quilts – that play an important part in the resolution of the story; Aunt Joanna’s faith, the woman Joanna is named after, is remarkable and inspiring. Equally inspiring are the sacrifices Joanna and Eben are willing to make for each other, putting the other person before their own wants.
A part I really enjoyed was the prologue. It describes how Joanna and Eben met. It happens all in the beach, where there are many non-Amish people enjoying the sand, sea and sun. At one point, Joanna starts toying with the idea of letting her hair down, just to enjoy the breeze, but she “didn’t want to add to the misconceptions far too many Englischers already had about us [the Amish people], some even from novels they’d read (page 9).” Being the utmost Amish writer, I could picture Mrs. Lewis getting a kick out of this line, as I did. I don’t know how many accomplished people would be brave (and goofy) enough to let themselves joke with themselves the way she does, all the way to the end. Joanna likes writing, and I can picture a bit of Mrs. Lewis in her – rereading what she has written, pondering ways of choosing a better wording, having a binder with her drafts, finding inspiration in her friend’s lives and even snuggling in bed with a notebook on her lap (p. 130-132, 206, among other references throughout the story). In short, this particular novel offers a deep insight into Beverly Lewis’s as a woman and a writer.
I also enjoyed several references to other characters that live in Hickory Hollow. I won’t mention how Mrs. Lewis uses this resource, but I will say that this book sparked my interest in reading some of her previous stories again, which I would gladly do anytime. This particular feature is not absent in “The Bridesmaid;” Mrs. Lewis has a way of writing in which she tells enough of the story to make a book interesting and enjoyable, while leaving enough slightly inconclusive to leave the reader wondering about the “what else,” and she certainly delivers with each sequel.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who might be interested in Amish fiction. As any of her previous works, this book has clean vocabulary, good morals and godly principles. Furthermore, as with any couple getting to know each other in the way Joanna and Eden do, there is sexual tension, but it is coupled with respect, modesty and restraint. This can only be treasured in a time where the pace and values of today sadly seem to always tend in the opposite way.
I received a complimentary sample of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for an honest review. This has not biased my opinion on the book, nor on the author.