Beverly Lewis,
Annie's People #3: The Brethren
(Bethany House, 2007)

This book finishes a three-part series that gives us a taste of Amish life in Paradise, Pa. Annie Zook is an Amish woman in her early 20s who has not yet joined the congregation. Her father Jesse, a local religious leader, has informally banned her from the family home, so Annie has moved in with her friend Esther Hostetler and her four young children. Esther needs help on the farm, as her husband Zeke is currently sitting in the Lancaster County jail. And Annie needs time away from her father and the rest of the Amish as she finally decides whether or not she will get baptized and join the church.

Though Jesse Zook has been hard on his daughter, his fellow brethren don't believe he's been strict enough. It's obvious that Annie has to make a definitive choice as soon as possible.

Annie's English friend Louisa Stratford has returned to Colorado and resumed her normal life. Six months of living with the Amish has changed Louisa, though, and she is tailoring her contemporary ways to adjust to her new attitudes and growing faith. She is satisfied with a simpler life and in teaching her art students in her small studio. What she hasn't quite figured out yet is what to do about the three men still vying for her attention: Michael, a lawyer and her former fiance; Trey, an old boyfriend and art dealer living in London; and Sam, an Amish man who for years has been straddling the fence between the Amish and English worlds. Who will come the closest to winning Louisa's heart? And will she ever return to Paradise?

Ben Martin has also gone home, back to Kentucky. The English man who worked in a local harness shop was courting Annie when he was in Paradise. He's in love with her but is willing to give her up, knowing they come from two different worlds. He's got to make a decision soon about where he will go and what he will do, and he's even considering signing up for the Peace Corps. But his plans change dramatically when his parents shock him with the truth about his past. (Savvy readers won't be surprised at all, because it's the story they've been waiting for all along.) Ben returns to Paradise armed with this new information and the hope that he and Annie can be together again, this time for good. They'll have to convince the People of their worthiness to get baptized and join the community. (Readers are already on their side.) Ben finds a Bible verse he shares with Annie: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." With that thought ever in mind, they persevere.

Everyone is haunted by a sad memory: the long-ago disappearance of toddler Isaac Hostetler, Zeke's younger brother. Annie even paints the scene where the two boys were last known to be together. It's the same painting that drew Ben to Paradise in the first place. Will the People (and we readers) finally understand what really happened back then at the covered bridge over Pequea Creek? Will Zeke be able to accept the facts?

The theme of this series (indeed, of many of Beverly Lewis's books) can be found in a paragraph on page 181: "Louisa knew life in Paradise was not perfect. If she'd learned anything from her visit there, it was that even the 'simple' life could be complex. No matter where one lived, life was stressful. Even for those who chose a less hectic pace, it was impossible to escape the pitfalls of human emotion and the unavoidable problems that resulted. The Amish seemed to take this in stride and made the best of tough situations with help from their families, their community, and their God."

While The Brethren is a stand-alone volume, readers will be a tad confused by some of the plot threads unless they have at least read the second book in the series, The Englisher. Also helpful is previous knowledge of the basics of Amish culture, especially the concept of Rumspringe, the running-around period allotted to young people before they commit to the church and are baptized; and the process of the divine lot, which is used in order to choose a new religious leader. It's a given that readers are already familiar with the Bann, the shunning of a misbehaving church member from the rest of the community.

Those who read all three books in their proper order will be rewarded with a satisfying experience. Every loose end is tied up, the characters grow from their experiences, and goodness prevails. In other words, fiction is much tidier than real life.

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review by
Corinne H. Smith

11 August 2007

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