Friday, March 25, 2011

Choices and Coming of Age: "The Journey" by Wanda Brunstetter

Anyone who has ever traveled throughout Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky especially will realize that the Amish presence has had a significant influence on the culture of those states. Somehow, even though most Americans don't know much about their belief system or their ways of living--believing them just to refuse to live in the "modern age"--have still come to see that their strong faith, moral, community, and family values have proven to be the backbone of many areas of the United States.

Having been raised by a Mennonite father, I have a different "take" on this way of believing and living since the Mennonite form of Christianity is seen by many to be a "kissing cousin" to the Amish way. We certainly had some pretty non-negotiable rules that formed the boundaries of my growing up years, but many of which I appreciate for their presence and their ability to keep me and my sister from getting what I call a "terminal case of the stupids" when we were kids.

In this particular novel a young man named Titus is living with his family in Pennsyvania--the younger of twins and a young adult who has always felt that his brother's life has been charmed and he just has never measured up. It is not easy to live in the shadow of a sibling, especially a twin, yet he and his brother were close nevertheless. He was working part-time for his brother-in-law and planning to propose to his long-time sweetheart when she announces that she is leaving their lifestyle as well as leaving him to live "English" and to move to California with her best girlfriend. Nursing his broken heart and convinced that he cannot remain where he will be constantly reminded of Phoebe, he agrees to take a position in an Amish community in Kentucky working in a wood shop crafting furniture, window coverings, storage sheds, etc. This is a major change in his life--one that he hopes will prove to his parents, and mostly to himself, that he is capable of forging his own future.

There Titus meets two young women--Suzanne who is the granddaughter of his employer, and Esther, a lovely, accomplished and open-hearted young woman about his age and to whom he is immediately attracted. He also is immediately "turned off" by Suzanne for a number of reasons. First, she is almost the spitten image of Phoebe. Second, she is not really domestic--she can't sew, doesn't think women should be confined to the house, and loves to work with wood--in fact, she is quite accomplished. Last, she is quite vocal in sharing her thoughts and opinions, and Titus is really not used to that.

This is a novel of learning, sharing, grieving, and hope. It is the journey of a young man into himself as well as away from his geographical home, a time when he must find his own way while still remaining a loyal son and brother. His discoveries about himself also lead him to change his responses to Suzanne and Esther, especially after realizing that what someone appears to be is not always who they really are. His old hearthrob is woven in and out of the story, and her experience away from the Amish life forms a significant part of the story.

Ms Brunstetter has written extensively about the Amish and her novels are full of color, family, personal hope, disappointment, confusion, and love. People often forget that just because their lifestyle is completely governed by their faith, they still encounter the same challenges and problems everyone must resolve. They are imperfect people as are all of us, they don't always do the wisest thing, they get upset at each other and their children have the same struggles growing up. If anything, the restrictive way of life can sometimes make growing up even more difficult, although those guidelines, while seeming to oppress, are just like very good fences which keep people and other creatures safe.

I greatly enjoyed this novel and found their ways of relating to be heart-warming and inspirational. My own family has a very strong faith base, but whether or not that is the case with the reader, there are still wonderful scenes in this book to be encountered and genuine people to meet. While it is fiction, it very accurately reflects the way families and individuals resolve their questions, problems, and challenges. And like all of us, Titus learns that he can indeed be a capable adult and make the choices that will insure a measure of happiness for him and any future family he may have.

This is really an old-fashioned love story and I hope you all will read it soon. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

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