Diane Prather

Diane Prather

Prather's Pick: Young woman struggles growing up in Amish country

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— This week's novel for adults begins in autumn and ends just before Christmas Day. The setting is Honeybrook, an Amish community. The central character of the novel is Nellie Mae Fisher, a 17-year-old daughter of Reuben and Besty Fisher.

"The Parting," by Beverly Lewis, is the first book in "The Courtship of Nellie Fisher," a series.

As the novel opens, Nellie Mae is baking goodies for her shop, a cozy building set back behind the house. "Simple Sweets" is what the hand-painted sign above her shop reads.

It isn't unusual for Nellie Mae to bake seven loaves of bread, eight pies and 10 dozen cookies each morning and, in addition, to whip up a batch of peanut butter fudge.

Nellie Mae keeps all of the recipes in her head, and she's willing to share them with others, rattling off the ingredients as if she's reading from a book.

So, this particular morning, Nellie Mae looks out the window as she waits for her pumpkin cookies to brown and her pies to finish baking. It's autumn 1966 and she reflects on the past summer.

A freak drought has left farmers without the crops they need for their livelihood. Acres and acres of stunted corn had to be cut early and used for fodder. Even the pumpkins Nellie Mae uses in her baking have had to be purchased this year.

Now there's a "growing faction of discontented farmers." Two spur of the moment meetings have been held in the bishop's barn. The goings on there have been kept secret from the women, but Nellie Mae has heard the "tittle tattle" about them as people come into her bakery.

The men have debated the teachings of Ordnung, the guidelines for living. Some say the drought is a prophecy, a warning. Others say they need tractors, electricity, and other modern conveniences to make a go of it. Some have even gone so far as to suggest altering the Ordnung.

A tractor salesman is visiting farms, leaving his card with the women if the men aren't home.

But for the Fisher family, the crop failure pales in comparison to the tragedy that struck in early June. Suzy, 11 months younger than Nellie Mae, died in a drowning accident. Nellie Mae feels guilty - not because she could have stopped her sister from going on an outing with the other young people - but because she had words with Suzy that morning.

This morning, as she waits for her baking, Nellie Mae also thinks about Caleb Yoder. She's hoping he will ask her to go for a ride.

As the novel proceeds, some of the men begin reading the English Bible. Reuben Fisher is one of them. He feels restless, as though there's an emptiness in his soul. Some other community members have been excommunicated.

There are rumors concerning Suzy's association with other young people. Some answers to puzzling questions might be found in her diary, but Nellie Mae buried it.

And what will all this turmoil do to Nellie Mae's relationship with Caleb Yoder?

Beverly Lewis was born in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. A number of her novels were set in Amish country. She has written more than 80 books for adults and children. She now lives in Colorado.

This week's book is published by Bethany House, 2007. It's $19.99 in hardcover.

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