PUBLICATION DATE: SEPTEMBER 11, 2012
ne young lady, Joanna Kurtz, seems to always end up as a bridesmaid. In the English world, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but in the Amish world it’s another story! As the years go by, her family is left wondering what will become of her…will she ever be courted and marry a nice Amish man?
Eben Troyer has issues of his own…his life is on hold until his wayward brother returns to the family homestead. His father has said that if Leroy does not return, Eben’s place is to remain on the farm.
The two meet on a chance vacation at Virginia Beach, and all too quickly the week comes to an end. Will they be able to work out the differences to see what might be? Or will they be left pining away in their own little corners of the world?
The Bridesmaid, the second book in the Home to Hickory Hollow series, is a great follow up to the first book, The Fiddler. Lewis does an outstanding job in painting the pictures of the countryside, giving many details of the area, while other authors may decide to leave them out. Very accurate in her storytelling, many of the places she mentioned are real-life stores/restaurants, taken from her trips to the locations she writes about. (I know this first hand, as I am only 30 minutes from the Shipshewana area!)
The storyline is gripping; I was able to read it in one sitting. I eagerly turned the pages from chapter to chapter, anxiously waiting to see where the story was headed! The story of Joanna and Eben was intriguing till the end…there was never a dull moment with them!
With that said, there were some characters I could have done without (isn’t that the way it always goes?). Cora-Jane leaves a lot to be desired…at times acting worse that a two year old. I found her attitudes and behavior to be inconsistent; it’s as if she truly didn’t know how to act or what she wanted. I definitely could have done without her.
While the story of Leroy was frustrating, sadly it happens all too often in the Amish world of rumspringa. A time when the young can taste the outside world, outsiders are left wondering if the tradition is a sound one.
An excellent series for a new fan to read, I will eagerly be waiting for the next in the series! I love catching up with characters from previous books, it’s like sitting down with a cup of coffee with an old friend!
oanna Kurtz is twenty-four and still unmarried, although many of her Amish school friends have long since started families of her own. But unlike her younger sister, Cora-Jane, she isn’t superstitious about standing up as a bridesmaid at yet another friend’s wedding. Unbeknownst to her family and friends, she’s been communicating with a young man from an Amish community in Shipshewana, Indiana, and secretly hopes that someday soon they will be able to marry. But when Eben Troyer finally visits Hickory Hollow to meet Joanna’s family, it’s revealed that Eben is unable to leave his father’s farm until his brother returns from his adventures in the English world. Joanna starts to consider moving to Indiana to be with Eben, but her plans are complicated when news of her secret fiction-writing reaches the Bishop and damages her standing in the community. Only the gift of an heirloom quilt that once belonged to the woman she was named after is able to help Joanna remain hopeful and strong in this difficult time. Is Joanna fated to be a spinster forever, or will God provide a way for Joanna and Eben to be together, despite the odds?
Like many fans of Amish fiction, I was introduced to this genre with the works of Beverly Lewis. I’ve long been a fan of the engaging and complex novels that Beverly consistently produces. I’m not sure whether my reading tastes have changed over the years I’ve been reading Amish fiction, or if Beverly’s standards are slipping, but either way, I’m just not enjoying the Home to Hickory Hollow series as much as I expected. While I liked The Bridesmaid slightly more than its precursor, The Fiddler, it just wasn’t as compelling or complex as Beverly’s earlier novels. I didn’t have to force myself to finish this book, but it never gripped me such that I found it difficult to put down, unlike many of Beverly’s earlier works. I was also a little disappointed by how flat and two-dimensional some of the secondary characters seemed, particularly Cora-Jane, who played a major role in some of the plot points in The Bridesmaid. Far from reminding me of any of Beverly’s previous books, The Bridesmaid actually made me think of some of Wanda E. Brunstetter’s novels. This might not bother some readers, but since I’m not a big fan of Wanda’s style of writing, this was a major turn off for me.
But before I discuss my qualms with this novel in further detail, I must touch on the positive aspects of The Bridesmaid. As I mentioned earlier, The Bridesmaid was definitely an improvement on the first novel in the Home to Hickory Hollow series. This was the first time that I’d read about a romance conducted by letters, at least in the context of the Amish, and I enjoyed the unconventionality of the romance between Joanna and Eben. The fact that Eben’s future was dictated by his absent brother’s actions also added an interesting aspect to the novel, and it was intriguing to witness Joanna and Eben’s indecision over whether they should attempt to take their future into their own hands or wait to see how matters panned out in case it wasn’t God’s will for them to be together. Their romance was very drawn out, and although I found it frustrating at times and wished that the couple had just sat down and talked out all of their issues, I appreciated that it gave both Joanna and Eben time to grow and mature. I particularly liked the element that the quilt added to the story, and the hope and strength that Joanna was able to gain from its legacy. I honestly think this was the most interesting part of The Bridesmaid, and wished that the quilt had played a larger part in the novel.
Unfortunately, the negative aspects of the writing often overshadowed those parts of the plot of The Bridesmaid that I genuinely enjoyed. My biggest issue probably has to be with the character of Cora-Jane, Joanna’s younger sister. Cora-Jane was overly negative towards Joanna’s singledom, and the possibility that she was “jinxing” her chances at marriage by acting as a bridesmaid at several weddings. Yet when Joanna revealed that she had a beau in Indiana that she’d been writing to, Cora-Jane was incredibly disparaging of their relationship. I never quite understood her reaction. In part, it seemed that Cora-Jane was worried about Joanna leaving Hickory Hollow to be with her beau, but on the other hand, it may be that Cora-Jane was jealous as she knew her own relationship wasn’t as positive as she let on. I could sort of understand Cora-Jane’s motivations for her bitterness regarding Joanna’s beau when she reveals her own relationship troubles towards the end of the novel, but her decision to reveal Joanna’s novel-writing to the Bishop seemed purely malicious due to the lack of reasonable motivation.
I was a little disappointed with the way that Joanna’s writing was treated, both by the fictional Amish community and as a topic in the novel. As an aspiring writer myself, the idea of an Amish woman secretly writing stories in her spare time intrigued me, and was ultimately the reason why I wanted to read The Bridesmaid despite my disappointment with the first Home to Hickory Hollow novel. I enjoyed reading about Joanna’s thought-processes and secret novel-writing habits, and understood her hurt when her writing was revealed to the community and she was forced to abandon her natural-given talents because of the Elders’ disapproval. Although I was glad that she was able to find a way to explore her creativity through encouraging poetry, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone with such natural talent for fiction writing could give up her God-given talents and agree to live in a community that disapproves of something that comes so naturally to her. There was no scriptural basis for the community’s disapproval of fiction writing (or reading), so the outcome of the situation didn’t sit well with me. I still feel unresolved about my opinion on this aspect of The Bridesmaid, even weeks after I finished the novel. It almost seems ironic that the author wants readers to enjoy reading a romance novel about an Amish woman who is discouraged by her community from writing romance novels. It feels kind of wrong to enjoy reading such a book when I know that it would be forbidden in certain Amish communities.
My biggest issue with Joanna’s writing is how violently her community reacts to it, particularly her deacon, only to have him to turn around and retract his opinion at a vital part of the plot. By the close of the story, I honestly felt that the deacon’s decision was just a plot device to keep Joanna and Eben apart in order for them to grow and mature before they made their decision to marry. While I appreciated the growth they both went through during their time apart, I wish something more physical had been keeping them apart. All it took for Joanna to travel to Indiana to tell Eben how she felt was the deacon retracting his opinion of Joanna and her writing. Sadly, the deacon’s behaviour also revealed how much power the Elders in the Amish church have and how they can often make decisions that don’t reflect God’s will or the community’s true opinion. In other novels, I wouldn’t have minded such a presentation of the Amish community, but in a series which is meant to be highlighting how wonderful it is to live in Hickory Hollow, this section of the book didn’t sit well with me.
Although I have a lot of complaints about this book, The Bridesmaid was an improvement on The Fiddler, and I’m tempted to read the final book in the Home to Hickory Hollow series to see if Beverly will eventually return to her usual high standard of writing. I enjoyed the unconventional romantic plot and the details about Joanna’s quilt, but the characterisation and plot progression of this novel were fairly poor, compared to other books in the genre, and in Beverly’s repertoire. While I’m sure that some Amish fans will enjoy The Bridesmaid, I don’t think I’m the only reader who will wonder why The Bridesmaid lacks many of the qualities that Beverly Lewis is known and loved for.