Beverly Lewis, one of Christian fiction's most popular authors, will please her fans with THE ENGLISHER, the second installment in her series, Annie's People. It's filled with all the things her fans have come to expect: Amish cultural details, interesting characters, faith dilemmas, romance and intrigue.
In book one, THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER, talented artist Annie Zook was torn between familial fidelity, a half-hearted engagement to a local Amish boy, and pursuing her passion for drawing and painting. Now, following a broken engagement, Annie has agreed to give up her art for six months in obedience to her father's wishes while she considers whether she will join the church or not. Her pen pal and best friend Louisa, who also fled a broken engagement in book one and flew out to visit her, is still enjoying her immersion in Amish life. Louisa is attracted to the handsome Samuel Glick, but realizes that if their romance is to be fully ignited, she must decide to join the Amish community. A visit from her friend Courtney Engelman from back home reminds her of what she has left behind, and leaves her more conflicted.
Annie has the opposite problem. Ben Martin, an Englisher who works in the local harness shop, has captured her heart. His kind and gentle ways attract her like a moth to a flame, and step by step she allows herself to open up to him. Soon, she is experimenting with the idea of discarding various parts of her Plain persona. But how can she continue seeing someone who is not of the Plain folks? What future could there be in the relationship? It's only a matter of time before there's a showdown between Annie and her father, which keeps the suspense building until late in the story.
Other plot lines are continued from book one, including the hushed-up death of Zeke Hochstetler's younger brother Isaac, which continues to torment him. The abusive Zeke pushes for reconciliation with his wife Esther and their young family, but his mental anguish continues to manifest itself in his harsh words and erratic behavior. Is he losing his mind?
Esther, resigned to her abusive, mostly loveless marriage, continues her quiet rebellion over her newfound assurance of salvation (something forbidden by the Plain people, who believe this is a manifestation of pride). Until she repents, she is shunned by her family and her community --- even having to eat at a separate table from her husband and children. Kudos to Lewis for tackling the difficult subject of abuse in religious communities; she addresses many of the emotions and wrongful views of those in leadership about the issue.
While THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER focused on the dilemma of a woman caught between using her gifts and acceptance by her community of faith, THE ENGLISHER centers more on what happens when two people are attracted to each other but fail to share similar cultural and spiritual ties. There is also a nice subtheme about religion and gender perceptions, especially concerning the role of women in the Amish community. Annie forthrightly takes on her father's obvious relaxed treatment of her brother's relationship with a "modern" woman as biased. In one poignant passage, Annie's father reflects, "Women were fine for marrying or birthing babies, but men were elected by the Lord God to lead the community of mortal saints. For Annie to have questioned him at all on this point irked him some, yet he would not allow her to know it." Readers with a somewhat glamorized view of Amish life will be brought up short to see just how conservative about gender roles it can be.
Lewis does a great job letting those readers outside the Amish community get a glimpse of the interior workings of its faith and culture. The pace is improved from book one, and Lewis gets less bogged down in too many adjectives and details. The multiple storylines and points of view are smooth, evidence of Lewis's mastery of the genre.
This novel would be confusing if read as a stand-alone, so be sure to begin with THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER. Devoted Lewis fans will be delighted to know that the story will be picked up in the third installment, THE BRETHREN, due out in October 2006.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby (firstname.lastname@example.org)