Beverly Lewis,
Annie's People #2: The Englisher
(Bethany House, 2006)

The action of this second episode picks up right after the first one (The Preacher's Daughter) ends. Annie Zook is a young Amish woman who is conflicted about officially joining the congregation -- not only because she has an artistic gift she cannot fully suppress, but also because she's getting closer to Ben Martin, the "English" man from Kentucky who works at the local harness shop. Succumbing to her need to paint and being courted by an Englisher are both activities that could get Annie in trouble with the Amish community, especially with her father Jesse, one of the local religious leaders. Annie has tentatively made a deal with him to give up her painting and drawing for six months, after which time she will begin to take the classes that will lead to her formal baptism and confirmation. Can she keep that promise? And why is her father so much more lenient with her brothers? Yonie has been seen driving a car and kissing an English girl, for heaven's sakes!

Louisa Stratford, Annie's English penpal from Colorado, has been staying with the Zooks for the past three months after breaking off her engagement with her fiance Michael. She has donned Plain clothing and, for the most part, the Amish lifestyle, but since she doesn't really belong to the People, she's surfing in a delightful but hard-working limbo. This fact is made clear to her when her old friend Courtney drops in unexpectedly from Colorado. Sent by Michael, Courtney's sole purpose in visiting Paradise, Pa., is to take her friend back west. When that tactic fails, she leaves as quickly as she came. At the same time, Louisa has begun to confide in Sam Glick, a young Amish man who, like Annie, has yet to officially join the church.

The two couples -- Annie and Ben, Louisa and Sam -- are straddling both the Amish and English worlds, running the risk of being "unequally yoked" to individuals their respective societies forbid associating with. How far will they go?

And though there are successful and loving Amish marriages within the Paradise community, Esther and Zeke Hochstetler don't have one of them. Esther has taken her four children to the home of Annie's Mennonite cousins, Julia and Irvin Ranck, to get away from her husband's verbal and physical abuse. She has compounded her problems by listening to her hosts' interpretation of the Scriptures, which the Amish leaders disapprove of. Esther soon considers herself "saved," which is not an acceptable tenet of Amish religious practice. Can she keep her beliefs to herself, or will she run the risk of being shunned from her family and friends? Zeke faces a separate problem as he decides to show the local police the evidence that has recently resurfaced of a crime from the past. Will he be shunned for his actions? Sure, every society has its own rules and regulations, but the Amish have one of the strictest cultures on Earth. To outsiders, it looks like a simple life and one of more devout faith, but the peace it may bring can come at a high price.

As Annie sees Esther and Zeke in such a fix, she ponders "the before and after state of marriage for young women. Some seemed to blossom under the covering of their husbands, while others lost their smiles nearly immediately." Indeed, relationship problems abound in this book -- among the couples, among friends, among the merging of Amish and English communities of Lancaster County, and between the characters and their levels of faith. Readers may find themselves overwhelmed, too, by all the challenges these characters face. Independent women who pick up this book may want to reach into the pages and throttle these women for forfeiting their lives and allowing themselves to be obsessed with men they shouldn't have or need. And always lurking in the background is the story of Isaac, a young Amish boy (Zeke Hochstetler's brother) who disappeared many years ago. Readers who think they know what really happened to him may be a bit dismayed by the turn of events here. The last chapters lead us to a cliffhanger that can be resolved only by reading the third book in the series.

Beverly Lewis is a master of the Christian fiction genre, and she weaves an ever-increasingly intricate plot here. As with many three-part series, though, this second episode is a mixture of threads that aren't as tightly woven as the first book was. The introduction of Courtney from Colorado is a cumbersome distraction, even though someone from Louisa's past obviously had to show up in Pennsylvania to remind her of her "real" life. Once Courtney is gone, readers can concentrate on the main stories and characters and can try to predict what will happen with each one of them. Alas, they'll have to read The Brethren to find out.

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review by
Corinne H. Smith

14 July 2007

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