PUBLICATION DATE: AUGUST 02, 2011
everal years ago, Adam Otto left his family and Amish community, breaking Emma Shetler’s heart in the process. Emma never stopped grieving for Adam, and now the death of her mother has created more pain. Emma needs to find a way to support herself and her ailing grandmother, but she isn’t convinced by her sister’s idea to open a fabric shop in her grandfather’s old workshop. But Emma doesn’t know that Clara and her husband are struggling financially, especially now that their cousin, Mark, has come to live with them for an indefinite period of time.
Clara’s marriage is experiencing difficulties, not only because her husband, Peter, has been out of work for nine months. The strain of having an extra person living in their house only seems to make things worse, especially as Mark’s interest in her younger sister is making her realise what she’s missing in her marriage. But someone else isn’t too pleased with the attention Mark is paying to Emma – Adam Otto, Emma’s first love.
Home on a visit from the English world, Adam can’t help but keep running into Emma. Initially he just wants to help her and her grandmother get back on their feet, but when he realises that she’s caught the attention of a newcomer to the community, he can’t help but feel jealous. Or is it more than jealousy that he’s feeling? Do all of Emma’s friends have reason to feel uneasy about Mark’s unexpected presence in their community?
Although I’m a devoted fan of Amish fiction, Treasuring Emma is the first full-length novel that I’ve read from Kathleen Fuller. I enjoyed reading a few of her novellas last year and hoped to experience more of the same with the first novel in the Middlefield Family series. The story of a young man returning to his Amish community and trying to win back his lost love is a fairly common one, but Kathleen adds a few twists to it by inserting a potentially dangerous love interest and exploring the relationship between Emma’s married sister and her husband. The main storyline was still fairly predictable, but Kathleen’s writing is very compelling and I found myself returning to the book whenever I had a spare moment. Even if Treasuring Emma isn’t the most original Amish novel that I’ve come across recently, it certainly contains a lot of the key aspects that make this genre so popular.
Much like some of the other well-known authors in this genre (Shelley Shepard Gray, Mary Ellis, Amy Clipston) Kathleen explores multiple perspectives in Treasuring Emma. While following multiple characters often means that you connect with some of them more so than others over the course of the story, I appreciated being able to gain insight into the minds of Leona, Clara and Mark, as well as Emma and Adam. Leona’s sections provided some encouraging insight into the grandmother’s wisdom and deep faith, while Clara’s allowed us to see the reasons why she was so pushy and overbearing with Emma at times. While I did eventually understand why Clara was such a difficult character, I still never felt like I completely sympathised with her. I’m not the sort of person who tries to take complete control over a problem and fix everything by myself, so I had trouble relating to her, although I’m sure her behaviour is typical of some women. I did find Mark’s perspective quite interesting to begin with, and I was intrigued by the mystery that was built up in his initial sections of the novel. However, as the story progressed I found Mark to be a bit caricatured. His story wasn’t entirely finished by the conclusion of Treasuring Emma, so I hope that the second book in the series provides more insight into his backstory and what made him into the kind of person he was in Treasuring Emma. While I appreciated the suspense that his character provided, his villainous nature felt a little over the top in places, particularly as we had little insight into his motives.
As I said, Emma and Adam’s romance is relatively predictable until Mark enters the picture. I liked the way that Mark bridged the gap between Emma and Adam’s story and Clara and Peter’s. The two couples provided an interesting contrast, which means that the reader never gets bored with one storyline as the book switches between the two fairly equally. Although the primary romance is one that’s been done many times before in this genre, I did really love Adam’s character, and I wanted him to win Emma’s heart simply because of how caring and genuine he seemed. Strangely enough, I actually found him a lot more realistic and sympathetic than Emma. The same can be said for Peter and Clara; while I loved Peter’s patience and wisdom (not so common among male Amish characters) I found myself getting frustrated with Clara after a while. It’s not common for a writer to make me connect with male characters over the female ones, so Treasuring Emma surprised me with this.
Ultimately, I was pleased with how most of the storylines worked out. It was encouraging to see Adam realising that he needed to make things right with God before he fixed matters with his family, community and Emma. The issue of Adam’s faith was never overbearing and seemed very natural. I was also pleased to see how his relationship with Emma concluded, just as I was with Clara and Peter. While I’m sure that both couples still have a lot to work on, the ending was open but optimistic. I’m intrigued to see where Mark’s storyline goes, and hope that it is wrapped up later in the series, since his plot was the only one that I felt needed more attention.
I’ve read a lot of great Amish books lately, so Treasuring Emma was up against some stiff competition. Although it wasn’t quite as original as some of my favourites in this genre, I did find Kathleen’s writing to be very compelling and easy to read. Some characters were less convincing and sympathetic than others, but as Treasuring Emma is part of a series, I hope that this is something that will be improved upon in the next book, Faithful to Laura.