Rating: 5 stars out of 5
When two young Amish men find love, will they risk losing everything?
Isaac Byler’s life changed when his family moved from their Amish home in Ohio to follow their new bishop to northern Minnesota. Their previous bishop and settlement, while holding to the Amish ways, was never as strict as the Swartzentruber Amish life they are expected to lead in Zebulon. All it took to shake up their community was a horrible accident that cost their small Ohio town the lives of several of their teenagers on a Rumspringa. Now in Zebulon, that outlet and glimpse into the English world is forbidden as is all but the smallest contact with the outside world. Every aspect of their lives is rigorously charted, inspected and regulated by their bishop and laws. And Isaac is feeling smothered and guilty about the fact.
Isaac is also turning 18, an age where he is expected to join the church and marry, two things he has been avoiding at all costs. The reasons behind his continued postponement are ones Isaac refuses to acknowledge. But that’s about to change as well. His parents have apprenticed Isaac to the community’s carpenter, David Lantz, a young man supporting his mother and sibling after his father died. Isaac has been avoiding David too because being near the carpenter raises unseemly and forbidden feelings in him that he is supposed to save for his wife.
When David and Isaac start to work together, their attraction and feelings towards each other grows as does their guilt and confusion over their futures. David too shares Isaac’s desires, and he harbors another secret as well. But can their love withstand the pressures of their families, community, and religion to conform and marry? Or will they take the chance on a life together outside in the English world and face the possibility of never seeing home and family again?
What a fantastic book! I had heard rumors about this novel circulating around certain LGBTQ internet groups for a little while but it still I was unprepared for the engrossing stunner of a story that is A Forbidden Rumspringa by Keira Andrews. Andrews brings us into the heart of the Amish, in particular the type of Amish known as the Swartzentruber, a super conservative, almost fundamentalist, religious sect within the Amish community that believes in zero contact with the outside world. I mean a total rejection of anything that could be said to be modern, English, or prideful. That includes rubber wheels for their buggies, shoes outside of church, and a rigid adherence to a strict “by the bishop” lifestyle where everyone is under constant surveillance and every part of their lives dictated by their bishop and religion.
Keira Andrews introduces us to this society and new settlement through the eyes of Isaac Byler, a 18 year boy, who is questioning their new lifestyle under their bishop and his future as it has been laid out for him by his parents and community. What little freedoms they had in their previous Amish community in Ohio have been left behind them when they fled their settlement because of an accident that killed several teenagers on a Rumspringa. For those readers unfamiliar with the Amish lifestyle and religion, the Rumspringa is (in some Amish communities) “a period of adolescence in which boys and girls are given greater personal freedom and allowed to form romantic relationships, usually ending with the choice of baptism into the church or leaving the community.” In other words, a time to get wild and get it out of their system before accepting communion and becoming a part of the church and community. But due to that tragedy, an Ohio settlement shatters and a splinter group that includes the new bishop and several families leaves, heading to Minnesota in search of an isolated stricter life.
All this information as to their past history is imparted through Isaac’s memories and musings. How I loved and understood Isaac. He is at a juncture in his life where he is expected to join the church, marry and start a farm of his own. None of which he wants to do. Not only is Isaac (and his best friend) chafing under the new restrictions but Isaac’s beloved older brother has left for the outside world and been shunned for his actions. Isaac is a bundle of questions,, guilt, and forbidden attractions towards men, especially the carpenter, David Lantz, to whom he is to be apprenticed. Andrews pulls us completely into Isaac’s world, so intimately that we feel as though we are his constant companion, privy to all his thoughts and feelings. We are so much a part of Isaac that we feel connected to him by his interactions with his family, his love for his brothers and sisters, the responsibility he feels towards his parents, everything that he treasures that is now starting to butt up against the clear realities of life in Zebulon. Because nothing is thriving in Zebulon except the bishop.
Slowly as the narrative proceeds, the author enlarges the reader’s view of Isaac and Zebulon to include the community’s farms, neighbors, and the group in general as Isaac interacts with various members of Zebulon. What a contrast between the healthy Amish community in Ohio they left and the starving, reduced one in Minnesota. That no family can grow enough, make enough supplies or have enough resources to survive is adding to the pressure for Isaac to stay and help support his family. The portrait of this type of Amish community is startling. I am sure that the pressures and strains represented here are the last ones to come to mind when you think of an Amish family but this story and its well drawn characters push the reader into forming other opinions or perspectives here. Another gem of this story and author.
Especially well done is the familial bonds and community ties that hold Isaac and David in place. You feel the emotions and love that tugs at them at the same time you totally understand the guilt and fear that threatens to overwhelm them. David’s character is one that straddles both communities, that of the English or outside world and that of the Amish. But deep within David remains that love and ingrained religious beliefs that continue to frame his life if not his thoughts. He is another great character, someone who is brave, troubled,and confused yet is still the impetus for the actions and events to come.
If those ties are all you have known, what amount of courage does it take to even think of leaving it and your families forever behind? Huge questions posed by the author and characters on an intimate scale. And every bit of emotional turmoil and pain is relayed from page to reader in believable scene after scene. The descriptions, the dialog, and the settings are all so authentically elevated and yet on the same level as each other. It all rings true. Not one aspect appears more realistic or well researched than another. The reader will throw their heart into this story and characters. And that will make it hard to leave them all behind by the time this tale is over. Luckily for us, Keira Andrews will pick up their story in a sequel to come.
A Forbidden Rumspringa is one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words’ best stories of 2014. As is that remarkable cover, so evocative of the novel and the Amish community found within. I highly recommend this book to all readers, add it to your TBR list today.
Cover Design by Dar Albert. Best cover of the month and of 2014. Love it.
ebook, 231 pages
Published September 3rd 2014 by KA Books (first published August 31st 2014)
seriesGay Amish #1
settingMinnesota (United States)