Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's a Gift To Be Simple: A Simple Amish Christmas by Vanetta Chapman

"It's a gift to be simple, it's a gift to be free,
It's a gift to come out where we ought to be . . ."

The old Shaker tune kept running through my mind as I was reading this delightful story set in the Amish Community of Eastern Pennsylvania, a story about a kind and generous person who has been living among the English for three years with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia and who is seeking to find out " . . . where she ought to be. " Annie Weaver left her Amish community at age seventeen, finished her GED (Amish children are only schooled to around the 8th grade level), and went on to become an R. N. Now she is working with children in the Pediatrics section of a large hospital in Philadelphia when she receives word that her dad has been in a terrible accident--his buggy was run down by a car--and he is in need of some serious nursing. She returns but faces some important decisions about the direction of her life. She has violated some of the important aspects of her faith and her community traditions, and now she must face their censure or find a way to ease back into Amish life if indeed, that is what she really wants.

This is a lovely story that takes the reader not only into Annie's conscious processing of her personal experience, but provides a window into Amish life as a whole. The people are loving and generous, troubled with the same pressures that trouble all human beings, stressed with the same difficulties that all families face, needing to resolve hurts and wounded relationships as do all people on the planet. Yet the Amish have their own unique way of approaching each of these situations. Even the hurt of a young woman who is pregnant without a husband is approached in a way that is healing and restorative.

This story is about reclaiming her life, moving her education and her experience in the wider world back into the Amish context and making it a positive experience. All is not smooth and there are wounds and days of wondering if this was the right place for her. It is a story about finding that sense of place that all of us seek. As an unmarried woman Annie must face the pressures of finding a mate--there are two men who have expressed a desire to "court" her, but she knows that she must decide if her re-entry into the community will be a permanent one.

By her own admission this is the first Amish setting for Ms Chapman's fictional writing, and having grown up with a Mennonite dad (kissing cousins to the Amish), I think she has done a great job. Her research has been well done and the flow of the story is gentle but persistent. I was deeply moved by some of Annie's experiences and for such a young woman she displayed an amazing amount of wisdom regarding the "human condition." That she brought sunshine and joy into her family's life is without doubt. This holiday story is a delight and I recommend it to adults and young adults alike. It will leave any reader with a sense of having visited a culture that may be vastly different from what most of us know, but it is a simpler, winsome way to live and holds its own magic. I give this novel a 4 out of 5.

This novel is being released this holiday season by Abingdon Press.

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