Every once in a while, a book leaps into your life and make you thankful for it. That’s what happened to me when I read Jolina Petersheim’s debut novel, The Outcast. I started it when my kids began their week-long spring break from school, which was maybe a mistake because I then spent all my spare time glued to a book when I might have been paying more attention to my kiddos. (They tell me I’m forgiven.)
I should also mention that this was the first Amish novel I’d read (I’ve read another since then), and I’ll be honest: I was skeptical at first. I know enough to realize that so-called “bonnet fiction” is not what I’m drawn to. But this book blows away all stereotypes.
Jolina holds degrees in English and communication arts from the University of the Cumberlands. Though The Outcast is her first novel, her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications. Her blog is syndicated with the Tennessean‘s “On Nashville” blog roll, as well as featured on other creative-writing sites. She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter.
About this book: Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop.
But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel’s baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home.
Judge this book by its cover? Well…no. Here’s my only quibble with this book. While the cover certainly lets readers know it’s Amish fiction, I don’t believe it does the book justice. It’s also a bit misleading as the child in the story is a babe-in-arms for all but the last chapter. So I don’t think the cover art accomplishes all it could.
Reminds me of…Francine Rivers, especially The Atonement Child. I suppose I should also say The Scarlet Letter, since the publisher is promoting The Outcast as a modern retelling of that classic. But with apologies to Nathaniel Hawthorne and my tenth-grade English teacher, I wish the original had been half as engaging to me as this re-take–which says much more about me than it does about them, I know.
Buy or borrow? Buy. For yourself, for your friends.
Why did I read this book? For Tyndale for review.
Would I read another by this author? Her sophomore novel is in the works, and I’ll be first in line to read it when it hits the shelves.
Rating: My favorite novel so far this year.
My take: From its opening lines, The Outcast wowed me in every way. Petersheim has a rare gift for storytelling, stringing along conflict and surprise revelations from first page to last. Billed as a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter, I found The Outcast riveting, its themes universal…transcendent. It’s about the value of purity, the consequences of pride and the power of forgiveness. This is its message, yet its *story* is what consumed my thoughts when I was away from the book, and what kept drawing me back.
Its characters are so true, their motivations so believable, that you do not need to be or want-to-be or know anyone Amish to relate. In this character-driven tale, there’s not one false note. Though published by a Christian publisher, this is not your typical Christian fiction. Its spiritual elements are so intrinsically woven into the story that they become absolutely organic, nothing preachy about it.
I also marvel at the author’s ingenuity in narrating her story from two points of view, using the omniscient, third-person voice of a deceased character to provide an artful counterpoint to Rachel’s intimate, first-person narration.
Perfectly paced, beautifully written, flawlessly executed, I could not put this book down.
Thanks to Tyndale for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
And have I mentioned that Jolina Petersheim is as delightful as she is talented? You will want to get to know this lovely young woman, and you can, via her website and Facebook page. You might also like to stop by her Pinterest board, where she’s having some fun “casting” her book in case it gets made into a movie. 🙂 And stay tuned. Next up, a bit of Q&A with Jolina herself…