PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 09, 2012
orced to abandon his presidential campaign when he’s alienated by his own party, Mark Stedman decides to leave Washington, DC, and return home to spend time with his wife and children. But his GPS has other ideas, taking him on a convoluted tour through the back roads of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Mark couldn’t be more irritated at the directions his device is giving him, particularly when it guides him straight into a ditch. Mark is thankful that a local Amish man, Josiah Stoltzfus, comes along just in time to pull him out of the ditch, and he’s surprised when the man opens his home to him and offers to help patch up his car. As Mark spends time with Josiah and his family, he can’t help but admire the wisdom and old-fashioned common sense that the man possesses. Wouldn’t America be a better place if only it had someone like Josiah at its helm? This thought stays with Mark long after he leaves Lancaster County, and when he’s called upon to give an endorsement for a presidential candidate, the one name that comes to mind is not the one America is expecting: Josiah. But is an Amish man willing to run for president? And even if he does, will anyone support his campaign? Can Josiah really be the answer America is looking for?
When I was asked to review Josiah for President, I nearly turned down the offer, since I knew that I wasn’t exactly the target audience for this novel. Although I’m a massive fan of Amish fiction, I’m not American, and my knowledge of contemporary American politics doesn’t extend terribly far. But as election time grew nearer and my Facebook and Twitter feeds began to explode with political rants, propaganda, second-by-second debate commentaries and badly photo-shopped images of the opposing parties from my American friends, even I felt like I need a break from all of the election hype. Josiah for President seemed to appear on my reading schedule at just the right moment, and for the most part, it did its job well. I appreciated reading about a politician who didn’t insult his competitor to get ahead, and who emphasised the responsibility that the ordinary American citizen had for improving their country, rather than allowing that duty to be lumped on his shoulders alone. But I did have my issues with this book, and unfortunately, there were several factors that hold me back from giving this novel a higher rating.
Josiah for President reminded me a lot of the moralistic Christmas novellas that start appearing on the shelves at this time of year. As much as I enjoy a ludicrously optimistic Christmas novella or two every time December rolls around, I often find that, in their attempt to put across a moral message, they resort to using caricatures. Josiah for President was much the same, and by the time I reached the end of the story, I realised that I never truly got close to any of the characters. With the possible exception of Josiah’s dilemma about running for president despite the disapproval of his Amish community, very few aspects of the main characters’ personalities were really explored. I’m not so concerned about Harley Phillips, Josiah’s political opponent, as the “villain” in any story often becomes a little caricatured, and he was really only in the book to provide a contrast to Josiah’s style of politics. But I truly wished that Mark’s character had been explored more fully. When we’re first introduced to Mark, he’s hoping to return home and make more of an effort with his family life and reconnect with his children. But when he takes up Josiah’s campaign, this strand is dropped and I couldn’t help but wonder how he was continuing to balance his family and his political career. This is an aspect of the storyline that I’m sure a lot of readers would have appreciated being explored further.
The concept of a failed politician meeting an Amish man and falling in love with the simplicity of his lifestyle is what most appealed to me about this novel, and I’m sure a lot of readers will feel the same. Considering the recent PBS documentary and TLC reality show, it’s clear that the Amish aren’t just popular amongst Christian romance readers, and everyone wants to grab a snippet of their wisdom and minimalism to apply to their own lives. Mark’s meeting with Josiah and the impact it had on him is probably the most realistic aspect of this otherwise incredibly contrived and fantastical story. I wasn’t entirely sure how Josiah’s political campaign would unfold, but once it got rolling, I kind of had to suspend my disbelief in order to truly enjoy the story. This is definitely a story for those who are unhappy with the current political scene in the US and wish that someone with a good dose of common sense and faith would step up to the challenge of running the country.
For the most part, Josiah for President is a fun, feel-good read. I’m sure that Martha Bolton isn’t suggesting that all America needs to get back on its feet is for Amish man to run for president. But I’m sure it’ll help a lot of readers escape the election mania and remind them of what really matters when it comes to placing their vote. If you’re looking for an easy, light-hearted read, this is the book for you. Since I read a lot of happily-ever-after romance novels, you’d think this would be the perfect novel for me also, but I’m afraid that the ending to Josiah for President upset my reading experience a little. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I will say that I didn’t expect it in the slightest. And once the rather emotional, unexpected event had taken place, the book took on an even more optimistic tone. While I’d found Josiah’s election campaign and journey towards the White House to be rather contrived and unrealistic, I’d not let it bother me too much, but when the book went on to detail Josiah’s impact on American politics, the next president and even the economy, I’m afraid it was just too much for me. It seemed as if Martha Bolton was aiming for a bittersweet ending, with a sad event that had many positive consequences, but I just found it incredibly cheesy. The ending pushed my suspension of disbelief over the edge, I’m afraid.
Josiah for President is not the next, great American novel. It’s not even the next, great Amish novel. But if the concept appeals to you and you’re in need of an escape from the current election hype, you’ll probably end up enjoying it. It’s a feel-good read that verges on the cheesy and the contrived just a little bit too much for me, and it could have added another interesting dimension to the story by exploring how Mark’s career conflicted with his family life. But as it is, Josiah for President is sure to appeal to fans of the genre and serves well as a distraction from the run up to elections.