PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 01, 2012
lla Bayer was raised Mennonite, but since she began dating Ezra Gundy she’s become convinced that she will one day join the Amish church so that she can marry Ezra. She thinks she has her entire future planned out – she will get a job, attend baking school, open her own bakery in Lancaster County, then be baptised in the Amish church and marry Ezra. But Ezra’s parents interfere with Ella’s plans when they announce that they want Ezra to purchase a local dairy farm, and decide that he needs to train in the trade at a dairy outside of Pennsylvania. Ella is convinced that they’re scheming to keep her away from Ezra, out of fear that she’s a bad influence on their already wild teenage son. But Ella can’t help but wish she were leaving Lancaster County herself, since her long absent father has returned and wants to reconcile with her. Not yet ready to forgive the man who deserted her family fifteen years previously, Ella conspires to get herself and Ezra to Indiana, where there is a dairy farm beside her grandmother’s old family home. Her grandmother wants her to decode an old family diary and thinks that visiting the family home might help Ella, which fits in perfectly with the Gundy’s desire to get Ezra out of Lancaster County. But Ella’s carefully constructed plans fall to pieces almost as soon as she and Ezra arrive in Nappanee, Indiana. The family who own the dairy farm think that Ezra will be a bad influence on their teenage daughter, with his motorcycle and Mennonite girlfriend, and their fears are confirmed when it becomes apparent that Ella left Pennsylvania without telling anyone of her intentions. Soon Ella finds herself alone in Nappanee, with no job or friends. She had been so certain that it was God’s will for her to become Amish and marry Ezra, but is it possible that he sent her to Indiana for an entirely different reason?
I’ve loved Mindy and Leslie’s Women of Lancaster County series since I read the first book, The Amish Midwife, with my book group last year. I hadn’t been terribly familiar with either author before this series, but I quickly became a fan of their writing. While the titles and covers of these books might suggest that they’re standard Amish romances, the content is so much more than that. Not only do Mindy and Leslie show that the Amish are flawed human beings, who like ourselves, make mistakes and don’t always get on with their family and community, but both authors bring a wealth of information about Anabaptist and Amish history into their writing. The combination of family secrets and historical detail contained in the Women of Lancaster County books is what makes them so refreshing and original.
Ella Bayer has been a memorable character right from the start of the series, so I was glad that she finally got a novel of her own. Being significantly younger than the previous two protagonists – Lexie and Ada – it took a bit of adjusting to settle into reading a novel about a nearly eighteen-year-old with such particular opinions about the way her future would pan out. The Amish Bride reminded me a little of Dianne Christner’s Something Old, which also had a relatively immature protagonist. I was a little worried that Ella’s stubbornness and naiveté was going to make it hard for me to sympathise with her, but it actually endeared me to her in a lot of ways. I could recall the all-consuming desire to just settle down with a husband and family, which sometimes causes young women to overlook the flaws in a man who is truly not suitable for them. While I imagine that some more mature readers may struggle with Ella’s rebellious nature and stubborn belief that she knows what is best for herself, I hope that most will be able to remember what it was like to be a romantic eighteen-year-old and appreciate Ella, flaws and all.
I truly did enjoy witnessing the growth of Ella’s character, especially when she learned to let go of her carefully constructed plans for the future and trust that God had control of her life. The spiritual messages in this book weren’t heavy-handed, but were obvious enough that they made me dwell on whether I trusted God enough with my future. I’m sure this is something all of us struggle with and can relate to. By the end of the book, I still felt that Ella had a lot of growing to do, but I was pleased with how far she’d come over the course of the novel. The scenes in which she finally confronts her father and Ezra made me quite proud of her and how far she’d come.
The mystery/historical aspect of the novel wasn’t as prominent or as complex as it had been in the previous two books in the series, but it was enough to grab my attention and make me care about whether or not Ella did manage to translate the code in her great-grandmother’s diary. The storyline that revolves around the diary and the reason for Ella’s trip to Indiana ties into the family details from the previous two novels a fair amount. While the authors try to do a lot of summing up of the family secrets that had been discovered earlier in the series, I would still recommend starting with The Amish Midwife and moving through the series chronologically. To be honest, even I felt confused reading the sections of the book that attempted to get new readers up to speed with Ella’s family history. This book is best appreciated if you’re already invested in the lives of the characters.
Unlike the previous two novels, The Amish Bride doesn’t delve too much into the Anabaptist history of the family and what brought them to the United States, which is good news for the non-history fans out there, but instead focuses on the lives of Ella’s great-grandmother and grandmother and their experiences as wives and mothers. The scene in which Ella finally translates the diary and learns about her ancestors ended up being a lot deeper than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise.
While I would probably class The Amish Bride as a romance novel, it is far more focused on Ella’s character development than her finding her future husband. That said, there is a happy, romantic ending, and I liked the way in which the romance was woven into the story. Instead of focusing on courtship rituals or falling in love, as other Amish novels do, The Amish Bride brought attention to the factors you need to consider before choosing a mate, and how you know who is right for you. This novel wasn’t so much focused on Ella choosing between two men (although I did appreciate the two love interests, and it took me a while to figure out who Ella would end up with) as it was on Ella figuring out the reasons why she wanted to get married and what was important to her about marriage. This isn’t a topic that’s approached very often in Amish fiction, so it was quite refreshing to read about.
The Amish Bride was a satisfying conclusion to the Women of Lancaster County series, and although Ella was a very different heroine from those in the previous books, I came to sympathise and connect with her over the course of the novel. I appreciated the blend of romance, mystery, family secrets and character growth that The Amish Bride contained and hope that this will not be the last novel that these two authors work on together. Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould definitely provide a new angle on the Amish fiction genre that would be sorely missed if this were to be the last book they penned together.