A damp, chilly wind blows through Park County, Indiana, the night Hannah Schwartz sneaks away to meet Reece by the covered bridge. She knows her love for this Englisch police detective is taboo in her Amish world, but she can’t resist just a few clandestine moments with the man who makes her feel safe while sending her heart racing. Their encounter is brief and painful as Hannah is once again torn between her family, her Amish fiancé and the love she harbors for her secret Englisch suitor. She flees his arms for the safe harbor of her home, only to encounter a gruesome scene.
Both parents have been poisoned, their stiff, constricted bodies covered by one of her mother’s handmade quilts. When their lives are taken away, so too are thousands of dollars worth of Mamms’ quilts. Two strange blood red symbols mar the wall of the living room. Reece knows that one is the symbol of peace, but does it have another meaning as well? Something far more sinister? Nearby, a neighbor’s poisoned body is discovered half submerged in a pond.
Shattered beyond consolation, Hannah wonders if the deaths are her punishment for partaking in a forbidden love. Her heart heavy, laden with pain and guilt, she decides that she has been rejected by God and will leave her Amish community to marry Reece. She is now Anathema, an outcast to God and her people. It isn’t long before Reece’s true colors show through and the bullying begins. As she endures years of abuse at Reece’s hands, Hannah desperately searches for the exquisite stolen quilts, a tangible link to her murdered parents. She knows exactly how to spot her mother’s work, so bold and beautiful that the hummingbird designs nearly fly off the expertly sewn patchwork.
During a heated argument with Reece, Hannah suffers a tragic fall and awakens in the hospital, where Reece tells her that their unborn baby girl did not survive. Hannah is convinced the fall was no accident and leaves Reece to reinvent herself in the Englisch world, where her knowledge of quilts and Amish life leads her to success as an author. On the surface, all is well, but Hannah misses the love of her family and friends, and aches even more for the faith she left behind.
Although the book moves at a quick pace from the start, the real page-turning action begins when Hannah receives a letter from Reece containing a photo of a little girl. The child’s almond eyes and unruly auburn hair, so like her own, leads Hannah to wonder if Reece’s claim is true --- that the child is their daughter. She heads back to her homeland on a journey wrought with heartache, mystery, deceit and love in a plot that continues to twist and turn until the very end. A decade after she fled Park County, Hannah realizes she was never Anathema to the God who loves her unconditionally. I highly recommend a box of tissues for the last couple of chapters.
Colleen Coble’s extensive research and Amish friendships come shining through the characters and imagery of this action-filled story. The devotion to God, peaceful lifestyle and tranquil farms beckon readers to indulge in the experience of visiting an Amish community. Descriptions of warm, damp greenhouses, simple furnishings and the sweet, creamy taste of coffee soup are woven through the pages of this novel like the patterns of a quilt. In addition to a spellbinding story, readers will come away from this book with interesting facts about Amish quilts and what their patterns mean to those who create them.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on May 13, 2008