Friday, December 14, 2007

book review: The Parting by Beverly Lewis

Title: The Parting
Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House, 2007
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 076420310X

Seventeen-year-old Nellie Mae Fisher doesn’t realize, the Saturday in early June, 1966 when Caleb Yoder catches her eye and gives her a lingering smile, that by evening her 16-year-old sister Suzy will be dead. This “collision of the best and worst days" of her life is for Nellie, her family, indeed the whole Amish community of Honeybrook, only the first storm in a whole season of troubles.

Now, one hundred days later, the corn has ripened stunted and small. There is restlessness among the men as some are defying the Ordnung and buying tractors or, worse, risking the ban by pursuing strange new beliefs that come straight from Bible passages unauthorized by the bishop. As Nellie tends her Simple Sweets shop, she can’t help but overhear rumors about Suzy and her last wild Rumschpringe days (an Amish teen's wild oats days) when she ran with a ‘fancy’ crowd. Worst of all, Caleb hasn’t given her another sign that he knows she exists.

Welcome to the world of Beverly Lewis’s The Parting – the first in a new series, The Courtship of Nellie Fisher. As is usual with Lewis’s books, I was captured by the story from the Prologue on and led willingly along by her effortless storytelling style and the intriguing plot.

The sight of Dat reading his Bible had me cheering while looking furtively about for who else might be watching. Nellie’s decision to look for Suzy’s diary – the one she buried instead of burned as she’d promised – made me nervous, not to speak of the time Caleb’s dad came charging across the room to talk directly to her. Altogether the plot along with my involvement with the characters had the story slipping by way too quickly.

As in other Lewis books, I found her characters a big draw. The story is mostly seen through the eyes of the domestically talented and capable Nellie, who dreams of making a home for Caleb and helping him on the farm. The occasional diversion into the viewpoint of the ardent and idealistic Caleb, as well as Betsy and Reuben (Nellie’s parents) rounds them out as people and adds plot complexity.

The Amish setting figures large too. As in her other books about the Amish, Lewis sprinkles the text liberally with Amish expressions like “wonderful gut,” “ain’t so,” and actual Amish words: “Willkumm,” “Ordnung,” and “Rumschpringe.” Descriptions of nature and the comforts and pleasures of domestic life as seen through Amish eyes help us experience the slow pace and simplicity of the lifestyle. But don’t be fooled. There are snakes slithering around in this garden too, waiting for just the right moment to strike.

The main theme of romantic love is supplemented by a delve into family love and love for God. Lewis helps us understand Amish beliefs by having us witness the clash between those wishing to uphold traditional ways in everything (the Ordnung) versus those who want to simplify farming by using modern equipment, and still others whose religious beliefs change after they read the Bible for themselves. Anyone who has been part of a community or church split will know the powerful dynamics at play.

The only problem with this book is that it’s only the beginning. Now I will surely not rest easy until Bethany House releases Books, 2, 3 etc. of the series. I was not surprised to find The Parting was number one on the November Christian Marketplace bestseller list (Publisher’s Weekly Religion Bookline Newsletter). For anyone who wants to spend several books in the company of an attractive heroine who finds herself in a tangle of personal, family and community loyalties, The Parting by Beverly Lewis is a good place to start.


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