Other Reviewers: Goodreads
This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for an honest review. As with all of my review, these are my own opinions.
This is my first read of Keira Andrews’. Finding a new author is one of the most exciting opportunities for a book blogger. Opening the book might bring hours of fun, tears, and angst — OR hours that you wish you could get back. At first I was hesitant to agree to read this book, after all, Amish? Really? I was ready to roll my eyes and prepare for the worst.
However, I was pleasantly surprised and I can now put Keira Andrews on my Goodreads Favorite Author list.
Issac Byler and his family have moved from Red Hills to Zebulon, Minnesota, a much more conservative Amish community. Issac has not joined the church yet, but the time approaches, his first step is to work as an apprentice for woodworker David Lantz. David is under a tremendous amount of pressure to provide for his family now that his father has passed away. While David and Issac become friends, will they discover something about themselves and can they afford to seek it?
As I said, Amish story sounds rather hokey at first, a trope that could be taken into an overly dramatic manner. Keira Andrews must have conducted some serious research on the Amish community, because how we see David and Issac struggle with the community appears realistic. It is interesting to consider that just calling someone “Amish” can mean many things and each community set up their own rules and orders (Ordnung). We don’t have to be Amish to understand how it feels to be trapped in a life we do not want and have no hope to ever escape.
This book is from his perspective. He is 18 and realizes that he is attracted to men. He struggles with the urge to explore this and the fear of leaving his family and life behind. Where would he go? What would he do? This community does not allow a Rumspringa, so there is no opportunity for him to explore his sexuality. We certainly feel how trapped he is, some of the strongest scenes are his with his family, as we see he can not question his Father and he is not given any questions. I liked how they talk about his older brother who left, yet we do not know a lot about Aaron.
Excesses. In Zebulon — as was the Swartzentruber way — they never uttered the word rumspringa, and the younger children had no concept of it. Thoughts of Aaron flickered through Isaac’s mind, unbidden.
I loved the scenes that Issac had with his younger brother. I hope we see more of him in later books.
We only see David through Issac’s eyes: David is older, more worldly than Issac. However, he is closer to having to join the church and marrying; he has more to loose than Issac. His family depends on him, so he feels like he has no choice but to sacrifice his happiness for the greater good.
“I’m sorry if you regret going tonight.” David’s words were bitten out.
“David, I don’t. At least, I don’t think I do.” Isaac’s heart skipped. “Are you angry with me?”
Head down, David laughed, but it was razor sharp. “No, Isaac. Only with myself.”
“Why?” Isaac touched the sleeve of David’s coat. “I wanted to come. I’m glad you trusted me.”
When he looked up, David’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “I was selfish to bring you here. Please forgive me.”
I loved how Andrews showed us the difference in the characters. They might still be gay, but that does not mean that both are equally ready to accept their sexuality and needs.
On some level, a theme could be, “be true to yourself.” Yet, these men are not even really able to understand that concept because of their restrictive upbringing. So for me, this novel is about the inevitability of curiosity and personal growth. We see through many characters of the younger generation as they struggle with finding tech, going to the movies, drinking, and smoking. Because they are forbidden any of these (including the rumspringa), they still find a way:
“We’re all curious. We’re all tempted. The tighter they try to lock us away from the world, the more we wonder. They try to prevent rumspringa, but they can’t stop it. Most of the time I feel like I’m drowning in sinful thoughts. A zipper and a movie aren’t so bad, really.”
I imagine that the next book’s theme will focus more on they exploring their relationship and how to integrate themselves into the English society.
The background research of the community made me appreciate the group, but not feel so overwhelmed with details. We get the feeling of how restrictive it is and how our protagonist want out without spending hours talking about how they farm and make quilts. With a simple interaction with a tourist, we get insight of the community:
Darren tilted his head, still smiling easily. “So Michelle and I are what you’d call English, right? Why English and not American? Or Canadian as the case may be.”
“I asked once when I was a boy, and Father said it’s just our way. He says that a lot.”
And this quote pretty much sums up why Issac and David struggle within Zebulon: Don’t question, just follow the rules. Which reminds me of a time I was in a Bible studies group one Sunday. The Bible study was going through the lesson and we were having a group discussion. I asked a question (using the scripture) to make a point that was not the point he was making. After the session I was basically told not bring up things like that, that we were following the lesson as is.
So, we eventually left the church because we were not allowed to question. In A Forbidden Rumspringa, Issac and David face this type of of problem, but magnified. We could leave the church, imagine if you had to leave your brothers and sisters behind, never to be able to contact them again?
What could be better?
Not sure if I would call it “better”, but I am certain that Amish people might not like how they are portrayed here. There are a few of the Lantz girls who seem to be “modern”, but most of the older generations seem very black and white. They weren’t portrayed as “evil”, but there was no scene where we got to see how some folks were trying to make change from within.
That being said, they are very insular community and we do get a few side descriptions of the “liberal” community they left behind. I just wanted to see a more mix environment.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I could have liked to see a less black and white view of the Amish and see some more development of the secondary characters. However, if the author wanted to portray the feeling of isolation; Andrews was very successful. I look forward to reading the second book next year!