This is the first book I’ve read by Beverly Lewis, although I’ve heard of her books for years. I saw the movie trailer for The Shunning, and wanted to read the book before I watched the movie.
The Shunning is the first book in the “Heritage of Lancaster County” series. It was published in 1997 Bethany House, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group.
This book details the life of a young Amish woman, Katie Lapp. She lives with her family in Hickory Hollow, and is preparing to wed the widower, Bishop John Beiler, and become mother to his five children. She is not in love with the Bishop, as her heart belongs to an Amish boy whose life was cut short by tragedy. But Daniel Fisher is long gone, and with only her memories of him and the music they made (music not belonging to Ausbund, a hymnal filled with songs teaching character), she struggles to move on and fulfill her duty to become a “gut” Amish wife and mother.
Katie is preparing for her upcoming wedding, and seeks her mother’s wedding dress in the attic, and with it, she finds a tiny baby’s dress – made of beautiful rose-colored satin. The name “Katherine Mayfield” is stitched in the facing of the dress. Why would her mother have something like this, something so “English”, and obviously not for a Plain child? When she asks her mother about the dress, Rebecca faints, and the next day refuses to discuss it.
As Katie struggles with her “sins”, loving beautiful clothing, loving the guitar belonging to Daniel, and continuing to play and sing the songs they wrote together, she feels more than ever that she will never be a good enough Amish woman to fit in with her community, much less the wife of a bishop.
When a long black limousine shows up in Hickory Hollow, with an English woman looking for someone named Rebecca who has a daughter in her early 20’s, people in the community begin to ask questions. When a letter is delivered to Katie’s mom, Rebecca, from the English woman, Laura Mayfield-Bennett, Katie feels that her parents are hiding things from her that would explain her struggles. Will her questions and struggles drive a wedge between herself and her family, her church and the Amish community? Will she be punished with the Meinding , a shunning from the entire community?
My thoughts on The Shunning: While I am not familiar with all the customs of the Amish, I was raised in a highly religious/conservative home. I remember when people, even family members, left our church and chose another path, we were pressured to cut ties with them. I can’t imagine my childhood curiosity, and grown-up questions being the cause of a complete shunning by my family, and the people I was closest to in our church community. While Katie struggles with her questions and doubts, even knowing that the Meinding is possible, she is truly trying to seek answers for herself. Others in the community label her as rebellious and unrepentant, but her struggle to understand are clear. As the first book in a trilogy, I know there are many loose ends that will be settled in the following novels. I was sad along with Katie as she made her choices, knowing that it was possible she would never be able to see or speak to her family and friends again, not even her mother or her lifelong best friend. But I also understood her questions, and her journey to find the answers.
Even if this is not a genre you typically find yourself reading, being drawn into the story is easy. You begin to know the characters, and become invested in their life.
I give this book a 3.5/5 rating. If I had not seen the movie preview, I might not have ever sought out this book/author, but now that I’ve finished this portion of the story, I plan to read The Confession, and The Reckoning as well.