Family Tension and Reconciliation — Amish Style

The River by Beverly Lewis:  A Book Review

Beverly Lewis transports her readers to the world of her Amish characters where everyone wakes up in the cozy bedroom of a sunny farmhouse with birdsong and the smell of bacon in the air.  The dinner tables are set with fresh-baked bread and a hearty dinner that surely includes gravy and mashed potatoes, polished off by a slice of apple pie piled high with whipped cream.  Still, this is no Pollyanna-ish world of perfection, and it is kept from being so by the author’s skillful portrayal of family tensions, personal regret, and the kind of conflict that only religious differences can enflame.

Eight years before the story begins, Tilly had left her Amish roots behind.  We find her married to an Englischer, the mother of twin daughters, and happily inhabiting a world in New England that is much farther removed from her Lancaster County home than geography would imply.  When a call from her older brother alerts her to the failing health of her father and an upcoming anniversary party for her parents, she and her sister Ruth (who left the Plain life shortly after Tilly)  make the agonizing decision to return to the family homestead for a visit.  Tilly’s shiny red car is not the only thing that sets her apart from the Plain life.  However, she realizes upon returning that the stiff and sometimes frigid relationship with her father has not thawed with the passage of time.

Running through her Eden Valley homeland, the Conestoga River is an ominous and poignant backdrop to Tilly’s memories of home and to her homecoming.  Still grieving over the drowning death of her baby sister, the whole family carries this pain and the disappointment of Tilly and Ruth’s departure like a dark weight.   Aging parents, locked doors, secrets, the reappearance of an old beau, and the tenderness of renewed relationships with family and friends make for an emotional reading experience and create a heart-felt bond between reader and characters.

A particular strength of this tale is the positive and refreshing way in which Beverly Lewis describes Tilly’s and Ruth’s departure from the Amish faith and way of life.  Still in a vibrant relationship with God, they portray the truth that God is at work in people, and is not tied to any denomination or organizational structure, no matter how cherished.  Recognizing God’s right to lead our loved ones in ways that we may not understand, but that are ultimately for their good and His glory, is a path away from heart ache and toward respect and family harmony.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Bethany House. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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