Review

PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 1, 2011

F

ollowing directly on from Marianna’s decision to remain in Montana at the end of Beside Still Waters, the second in the Big Sky trilogy explores the difficulties Marianna is having not only in deciding between Englisher Ben and her beau back in Indiana, but also in her spiritual journey. Two men show her two paths she can take in her life – should she remain with her family’s Amish faith and cut herself off from the rest of the world, or is it worth joining the English world to be with Ben and experiment with reading an English Bible, playing instruments and attending prayer meetings? As she and her family get to know their English neighbours better, it is not just Marianna who is forced to answer difficult questions about the way they have chosen to live and whether this is the only way to please God. Matters are complicated further when an old friend from back home pays a visit and ends up staying longer than planned, forcing Marianna to speed up her decision making and figure out whether staying in Montana is best for her, spiritually and emotionally, or if she should finally return to Indiana.

It’s not often that I read a series of books in the Amish genre where each book picks up where the last one finished. In fact, Tricia’s Big Sky trilogy reminds me of Beverly Lewis more than anyone else who writes Amish novels, and that’s a big compliment for an author who is a newcomer to the genre! But I don’t think that Marianna’s story could have been condensed into one single book. After finishing Beside Still Waters I was itching to read the next installment to find out what turns Marianna’s life would take next. The first book in the series rather ended on a cliff-hanger, so if you haven’t started this series at the beginning I’d recommend going back to Beside Still Waters to avoid any conclusion. While some series can be read out of order, I wouldn’t recommend this for the Big Sky trilogy.

While I felt that this story was a little more slow-moving than Beside Still Waters, and Marianna dallied over her decisions and could be quite indecisive in places, it was wonderful to read a book that was so driven and motivated by a character’s internal emotions and dilemmas, rather than the characters themselves being moved along by dramatic events in the plot. Tricia addresses many issues that are often skimmed over and avoided in other Amish novels, such as whether a prayer covering is really necessary for prayer, or whether those who are not Amish can still receive salvation through Christ. Although Marianna’s mother remains mostly stuck in her ways, hoping her daughter won’t be too influenced by her new English friends, her father finds himself querying some of the Amish teachings as he begins to read an English Bible and is given insight into some scriptures from Ben, an Englisher. We “Englishers” often enjoy reading novels in which the Amish and English get on perfectly well without ever addressing these issues, so it was interesting to read a book in which the Amish and English are forced to interact daily because of the practicalities of living in such a remote location, and in which such a situation causes them to question the lives they have been living. In particular, it was wonderful to see Marianna’s faith in God grow and change over the course of this series. I can sometimes be picky about the Christian fiction that I read, and despite being a Christian I still find some books to be verging on preaching in their attempts to display a Christian message. I had no such issues with Along Wooded Paths, and found myself becoming thoroughly engaged in Marianna’s spiritual journey, finding it far more real than many I’d encountered previously in Christian fiction. I hope that Marianna’s situation can speak to others who are having difficulties in their faith lives and encourage them to make the changes necessary to draw them closer to God.

But of course, where would an Amish novel be without a pinch of romance? Having left Aaron behind in Indiana in the first book in the series, Marianna finds herself falling for Ben, an Englisher and therefore entirely forbidden. Her father in particular is concerned about their closeness and it is in Along Wooded Paths that Marianna had to consider whether their friendship is entirely suitable. Friends and colleagues begin speculating about their relationship, particularly when Aaron comes to Montana for a visit, forcing Marianna to decide between the two lifestyles and two men, once and for all. I’m still not sure whether I was entirely surprised by Marianna’s ultimate decision, but there’s always the chance that she may change her mind in the third and final book in the trilogy, Beyond Hope’s Valley.

I’ve become entirely addicted to the Big Sky series, and like many other Amish fans, I’m wishing that time would go faster so that I could read Beyond Hope’s Valley and discover where Marianna’s life takes her next. Tricia Goyer has brought something new and refreshing to the Amish genre and I hope that novels like Along Wooded Paths will encourage new readers, particularly those who have been wary of the romance-orientated novels that the genre is often concentrated on. The spiritual and emotional depths of Tricia’s characters are something that I’m particularly fond of, and I have high hopes for Beyond Hope’s Valley in April 2012.