The Courtship of Nellie Fisher: The Parting by Beverly Lewis. October 2007.
Set deep within the Amish community in 1966, our heroine Nellie Fisher is not your typical seventeen year old. Grieving the loss of her younger sister, Suzy, in a boating accident, she throws herself even harder into the work at her bakery. Six days a week, Nellie rises early and begins the long day of baking sweet and tempting sweets and breads to sell in her shop. Their customers, mostly Englischers who enjoy the quaintness and authenticity of the bakers almost as much as they love the treats themselves, keep her busy, busy, busy. But not too busy that she doesn’t notice that Caleb Yoder is beginning to pay attention to her. That he has even smiled at her once or twice. While it’s true, he hasn’t asked to drive her home from the weekly Singings yet. She holds out hope. After all, she knows that he knows that her grief and pain are still new, still fresh, still raw. And what hurts even worse than the pain of losing her sister is the fact that people are beginning to spread rumors about her sister. Scandalous rumors. It’s bad enough that her sister died unbaptized--in the midst of her rumschpringe--and hadn’t joined the church. But surely the rumors couldn’t be true. If they are, then...then her sister is surely lost to her forever.
Nellie isn’t the only one trying to puzzle out fact from fiction when it comes to Suzy’s death. Caleb is drawn to Nellie Mae Fisher. He sees her. He thinks of her. He wants her for his own. But there is one little problem. With her sister’s death, with the rumors circulating about, he knows that his father will never approve of the match. If only there was a way to talk to her, ask her for the truth. To find out if her family is ‘good’ enough for his.
It begins with a note. A hasty note.
Dear Nellie Mae,
Will you go riding with me after the next Singing? If so, please meet me alongside Cambridge Road afterward, about a mile southeast of my father’s cousin Jonah Yoder’s barn. There’s a sheltered area among some trees and shrubs that will keep you out of the wind.
That note may not make the modern day reader’s heart skip a beat, but this sends our heroine Nellie into quite a flurry. Caleb is interested. Interested in her. Interested in courting her. Could this lead to the marriage she’s been secretly hoping for? Wishing for all these years when she’s noticed him. Could it all be happening--really happening? When you’re reading a book that is almost 350 pages long, and you find a statement like this on page 173, "Nellie Mae’s heart sang and her toes wiggled as the buggy flew through the wee hours. Caleb Yoder was going to court her,and in due time, she would become his bride. Nothing could possibly stand in their way." You know to expect trouble.
But Nellie’s ‘trouble’ came from an unexpected place: her own family. Every member of the family has been grieving in their own way. But her father--her father has turned to the Bible. The English Bible (not the High German) is giving him comfort and shedding light--eternal light--one very thing in his life. After a conversation with one of his cousins, Jonathan, who is being shunned by the community who uphold the Ordung--he turns to the gospel of John. Jonathan has promised Reuben (the dad) that this book holds the key to the gospel message. And Reuben sees for himself this is true. At first he is happy and shocked, jubilant and concerned. He now knows the gospel truth. He has been saved. And it’s a joy that fills him completely. But with it is a sorrow. It is this “being saved” or “being born again” that leads families to leave the community, to be outcast. The bishop frowns on anyone reading or studying Scripture on their own--let alone the Scriptures in English. For once people start reading the Scriptures on their own, they begin to doubt the centuries of tradition that the Ordung represents. So when the Bishop outlaws Bible studies, Reuben knows that his new beliefs are something he’ll have to make a stand for. As Reuben tries to introduce the gospel to each of his children--both within and without his household--some receive it with joy and hope--others reject is as new, scary, dangerous, and foreign. But Reuben and his family aren’t alone. In community after community--across states and borders--the Amish are facing a challenge. There is revival in the air and it is challenging everything.
Revivals. Hidden Diaries. Secret Courtships. The Parting is a very exciting read, and the first in new series by Beverly Lewis.
Review by Becky Laney, frequent contributor
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