Monday, April 2, 2012

An Uncommon Grace by Serena B. Miller

I usually don't like books with an Amish theme but I'm glad I took a chance on this one. I really liked it!
Grace is a military nurse formerly stationed in Afghanistan. She has just returned to rural Ohio to help care for her grandmother recovering from heart bypass surgery.
Her grandmother's farm is next to one owned by a member of the most conservative and isolated of all the Amish sects. The Swartzentruber Amish refuse indoor plumbing,education beyond the eighth grade (done within their own community), and the “decoration” of the reflective triangle on the back of their black buggies.
Grace gets thrust into the family when an intruder kills the Amish father and wounds the pregnant mother. Grace begins to have affection for the oldest brother, Levi, a strong young man, now head of the family. And he for her. But they live in separate worlds. If he were to follow his heart he would be shunned – even by his own mother and brothers.
When the murderer returns, many lives are placed in danger.

In this well crafted novel, I experienced the conflict those in this very conservative Amish sect might experience when confronted with a very different world. Levi is a man who wants to learn so much more than was offered in his limited education. He is nearly banned when it is discovered he was reading some old textbooks he had found discarded behind a used bookstore. He would like to see his mother have running water and be able to visit with her sister – forbidden because she is of a less conservative sect.
I also sensed the conflict in Grace's life. She is attracted to the simpler life of the Amish. The children are well behaved and generally seem content without TV and electronic devices. But she is also disturbed at the strict legalism. She nearly drives into the back of a black buggy at night and doesn't understand putting children's lives in danger for the sake of a rule.

I do like it when reading a novel is a learning experience, and reading this one was exactly that. I was introduced to another aspect of the Amish community and was given the opportunity to think about a life uncomplicated by the electronics of our culture. But I also thought about Christianity and legalism. The Swartzentruber sect may read the Bible only in the old German edition, a language many do not understand. The word of the elder in the community has the force of law and must be obeyed without question. I thought of churches in my city in the Pacific Northwest exhibiting similar behavior. I highly recommend this enjoyable yet thought provoking novel.

There are discussion question at the back of this book and it would make a very good choice for reading groups. There would be much to discuss, including what aspects of the Amish society could be incorporated into life.

Serena B. Miller has written for many periodicals and is the author of two previous books. She has spent years partnering with her husband in ministry. They live on a farm in southern Ohio near a thriving Amish community. You can find out more about her and read her journal at

Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), 330 pages. Publisher product information.
(A note about the book's cover: the main Amish character is a man!  The cover image chosen for this book, I think, misrepresents its content.)

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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