Linda Byler,
Lizzie Searches for Love #1:
Running Around (& Such)

(Good, 2010)

When I was young, I truly enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic Little House series -- much more than the TV series loosely based upon it. From Laura's early days in the big woods to her married years with Almanzo, the simple stories about pioneer life kept me entranced. Nothing else in my library matched it.

It's nice now to find a comparable storyteller in Linda Byler. While Byler doesn't have a pioneer heritage to relate, her Amish upbringing is grist for a very similar tale.

Byler's long-running series of Lizzie stories, originally published independently and sold mostly in Amish and Mennonite stores, are now being collected for re-publication and a broader audience. The first book, Running Around (& Such), collects Lizzie, Lizzie & Emma, Lizzie's Carefree Years, Lizzie & Mandy and Lizzie's Teen Years. All are replete with Pennsylvania Dutch flavor.

As the book begins, Lizzie's father (Dat) is making the family move from Jefferson County, where he's grown tired of the pallet-making business, to Cameron County, where he has family and hopes to farm. Lizzie's formidable mother (Mam) is against the plan, but she resigns herself to it as God's will -- because, after all, a good Amish woman always submits to her husband's wishes. (No, Amish society is not teeming with feminist ideals.) Once settled into their new home, Lizzie faces the realities of growing up -- she turns 16 during the course of the book -- and, although she looks forward to the concepts of dating and running around with her young Amish friends, she also longs for the more carefree days of her youth.

For Lizzie, school is over and she has to learn how to sew, cook and take care of a house. She gets her first taste of employment, working as a maud (live-in housekeeper) and sorting eggs. She also wants to push the Amish envelope a little, wearing dresses with a slightly higher hemline and hair in a less rigid part than is customary. And would a pair of high-heeled shoes really upset the natural order of things?

Lizzie also wrestles with her faith. God, she thinks, is just a little too big, a little too scary, and the Bible doesn't always make sense to her. If you're Amish, that's a pretty big deal.

It doesn't help that Lizzie has a very bad temper.

The stories are largely episodic, and some readers may grow a little tired of the repeating pattern: Lizzie faces some new task or stage in growing up, she rebels, throws a fit but, by the time she's actually done what's required of her, she's relented and seen the wisdom of the Amish way. Likewise, her tantrums about her elder sister Emma's apparent superiority, as well as Lizzie's own weight and bad skin, are overused.

But, repetitiveness aside, the stories are cute, quaint and touching. No, Amish society is not perfect, and some people will react in horror to the images of a submissive wife, the working teenager, the strict rules on dating and such. But Amish culture is very different from the mainstream, and people who don't want insight into their lives probably shouldn't be reading books like this anyway. But in many ways, the innocence of this book's heroine and lifestyle are a refreshing change from the more frantic nature of ordinary life in the non-Amish world.

Of course, there are religious aspects of the book that will inspire some people, and put others off. Suffice it to say, the book addresses Lizzie's faith without being overly preachy.

As a resident of Lancaster County, Pa., where Amish culture still thrives, I found this peek into Lizzie's life a pleasant visit.

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 November 2010

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