Rumspringa’s Hope by Beth Shriver

As you may have noticed, most of the books I review on this blog are available in the UK, often classics, and sometimes feature on bestseller lists. I obviously have my obsessions, like Persephone books, and Slightly Foxed editions, which are a little more obscure. Today’s book is unusual as it is an American book, possibly aimed at Young Adults, and was put forward by the Religious Learning Resources Centre for review up here in the grey North East. So, on the basis of a change being as good as a rest, here it goes…

This is a book I would not normally have picked up to read, but it is nonetheless interesting and for me at least, an unusual read.

Emma and her family live as part of an Amish community in America, near Philadelphia. It is a closed community, self supporting and depending largely on agricultural work, carried out by old fashioned methods; no factory farming here. Her brother, Mark, is troubled, and he is interested in going on Rumspringa, when young people go into the outside world for a short time. I think the idea is that this gives them a glimpse of a world which is so frightening, so different to their experience of growing up Amish that they quickly retreat back to their community, marry and bring up a family. Emma feels that she must accompany her brother, though she is a little older than normal. She has history, though very circumspect, with Caleb, who has led groups into the worst areas of Philadelphia. She is also being pursued, matrimonially, by Zeb, who sees her as a way of getting his hands on her family farm as well as a useful wife and worker.

This is a book which tries to show how the Amish way of life offers security, strong values and an alternative way of life. Part of Emma’s mission to the city is to evangelise, and offer the homeless and poor help materially and spiritually. I’m not sure that her views would work outside a community which is still very patriarchal and enclosed. This is not a Christian message of hope for all, it is offering a lifestyle which those outside the community would struggle to embrace. There is not much practical help shown to those in the city, and much is made of those young people who leave the community being quick to return rather than embarking on long term mission work. Caleb, the love interest, is shown as being condemned for leaving the community rather than celebrated for making worthwhile contributions in the city.

I was not the target audience for this book. I think that if it is not intended as a Young Adult novel, it could well be. It is an interesting view of a life I knew little about; an enclosed agricultural community built on a traditional faith in America. It shows a community challenged by, but not changed by, the outside world. Women are the homemakers and workers, but not decision makers. I suppose that I am surprised that communities like this still exist. City life is unattractive, negative and dangerous. The young people seem to be shown only the worst possible alternative to their life in the community, so it is not surprising that they return as soon as possible.

This is a readable, well written book which is presumably the first in a series. I found it easy to read and an interesting anthropological study, rather than a personal novel. It could be read as a romance, a young person’s novel, but not a huge statement of faith. If you were seeking an insight into the Amish way of life this would be a good read, but as a book with a Christian message it offers little by way of example, evangelism or spiritual insight.

So, a longer review than usual of an unusual book for me. I think the next review will be back to a very English book in direct contrast to this!