Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Beside Still Waters starts out like many of the other Amish-centered books that I've read, particularly two series that I really like by Beverly Lewis. In addition to the standard internal conflict brought upon children in the Amish community who are in the thick of their Rumschprimge, eighteen year-old Marianna Sommer also has a family tragedy to contend with; The day of her birth also marks the day her family experienced a defining tragedy. Feeling like she'll never be enough to replace two sisters, Marianna has always strived to be an exceptional daughter and member of the Amish community. With two daughters gone and a son who's chosen to live outside the faith, her parents decide that a cross-country move will be just the fresh start their family needs.
Marianna is devastated, because she feels that a proposal from Aaron is just around the corner and is afraid they won't be able to survive the distance. As an eighteen year-old, she could technically stay behind, but doesn't feel that's a real choice as she's a big source of support for her parents in tending to the younger siblings and helping around the house.
For me, there's always been something fascinating about the Amish and conservative Mennonite traditions and way of life, so I am usually drawn to books about them. This book was no exception in being a 'nice' story. There is no real conflict that makes your guts wrench (other than the narrative about the family's tragedy) and the author is clearly of a conservative Christian bent, as is demonstrated when the family settles in Montana and marvel at the 'friendship' that the local Christian church members seem to have with God, as opposed to their strict reverence of Him.
It bothered me that she insinuated that the relationship that the Amish had with God was less personal or less impactful than that which the members of the local Christian church (it wasn't ever specified, so I'm thinking it was a non-denominational gathering?) have with Him. That presumed bias, while evident, didn't change my enjoyment of the story, which is not anything spectacular, but is certainly a quick read and kept me company over a few days in the backyard watching my kids play, and soaking up the sun.
It also felt a little untrue to the characters that her parents (strict and conservative members of the Amish community) once they arrived in Montana, were fairly quick to start 'coming around' to the ways of the local church: Her father ordered an English Bible, and started making other small changes that they were worried would happen before they moved because it was rumored that the Montana Amish community was much more lax than that which they left in the Midwest. Maybe the lack of prying eyes from the neighbors finally allowed them to take the time to be introspective and figure out what really works for them. If that's the case, I hope they invite their oldest son back into their lives at some point, as it would seem hypocritical otherwise.
Although the writing style was fairly simplistic, it held my attention enough that I would read the upcoming installments. I'd love to see if Marianna and Aaron end up together, as she seemed so firm in her faith that she'd join the church in the Fall, or if she starts to question their compatibility and instead falls for a local boy with a relationship with God that is so foreign to her.
Having an easy Summer read is never a bad thing in my opinion, so I'd still recommend this to friends who've enjoyed similar stories in the past.
I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of the Beside Still Waters Campaign and received a copy of the book and a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.
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