New York Times bestselling author Beverly Lewis has made a name for herself exploring the lives of Amish women, and in THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER, the first installment of her Annie's People series, she shows why she's become one of inspirational fiction's queens of the gentle read.
Where does responsibility to family, church, and community give way to an individual's God-given gifts and talents? Lewis explores this question through the character of 20-year-old Annie Zook, the daughter of an Old Order Amish preacher. Annie and her family live in a remote area of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, appropriately called "Paradise" (a real place, by the way). From her earliest years, Annie has loved to draw and paint, but at six, her father shamed her when she drew a black kitten. Since then, Annie has hidden her artwork from her family. She despairs of choosing between her art and her desire to be a dutiful daughter, and doesn't understand why her church has forced her into making this choice. "It annoys me no end that some Amish bishops allow for artistic expression, permitting their people to create and sell art, while our bishop does not."
There's more guilt. Although Annie loves Rudy Esh, she isn't willing to put aside her art, join the church, and marry him. He's moved on to a new sweetheart, and Annie finds herself obliged to be polite to them both, although she still cares for him.
It's impossible to carry a load of guilt like this alone, and Annie's safety valve is her pen-pal relationship of more than a decade with the newly engaged 22-year-old Louisa Stratford, an art teacher who lives in Colorado. Lewis compellingly shows how both women idealize the life of the other. Louisa, who's chafing against her mother's opulent wedding plans for her, finds that "Excessive extravagance had begun to slowly sicken her toward all she had grown accustomed to." Annie is convinced that Louisa has everything anyone could want since she's free to express herself through art; Louisa pines for the simplicity and tight-knit family ways of Annie's Plain folks' life.
The subplots create some nice parallel tension to Annie's narrative. Among these are the mysterious disappearance of a young child years ago, perceived rebellion against the church, unsuitable love interests, the long-term effects of tragedy on a family, and the abuse of a young mother. Readers new to Amish culture may be surprised by some of the controversies faced by the characters, especially the "rebellion" against her church by Esther Hochstetler for her belief that her salvation is sure.
The multiple storylines and points of view, part of Lewis's setting up the new series, are handled fairly adeptly, although two "prologues" may be a bit much. There are a few other quibbles. An emergency home birth is rather a cliché for fiction fans (how many novels has this scene been a part of?). Sometimes the description of food at each meal seems more like a menu than a natural part of the narrative ("Following a supper of lamb loaf, scalloped asparagus, buttered carrots, and homemade bread with Sarah Mae's blueberry jam, and topped off with Mamm's well-loved misty mint salad."), although some readers may find this to their liking. Plentiful adjectives describe each scene.
THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER is a sweet tale told with Lewis's practiced hand and sure to delight her fans. Those new to Lewis's novels will especially enjoy the glimpses of Amish life and culture, while longtime fans will appreciate the start of a new series.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 1, 2005