Friday, August 16, 2019

Review: Their Amish Reunion

At RWA this summer one of my friends book-talked the hell out of Their Amish Reunion by Lenora Worth.  My immediate response was, "This sounds totally like my jam."  My unspoken response was "Amish romance? Um...we'll see."

There are readers who gobble up Amish romance and then there are readers who are highly critical of a subgenre that essentially fetishizes "whiteness" and insular religious communities.  I'm not here to say they're wrong.  No, I'm here to tell you 1) how amazing this book is while 2) Amish romance is unlikely to ever be truly my jam and 3) give the RITA-judging pool a reality slap into next Tuesday.  If I can read this and say, "Not my thing but hot damn is this an amazing book!" then you RITA judges who mark down very solid, well-written stories because they're about not-white people or because it's erotic romance?  Yeah, please step to the front of the line so I know never to read your books because your "judgment" is not sound.  I refuse to believe that I'm somehow "special" because I can recognize a very well-written romance even if it's "not my jam." If I can do it, everybody should be able to do it.  OK, lecture over. Now, onto the review:

During Jeremiah Weaver's rumspringa he befriended a young Navy SEAL whose wealthy parents lived nearby in their small Pennsylvania town.  When the young man dies during a dangerous mission, Jeremiah chooses to leave behind his Amish community and enlist in the Navy.  He trains to become a SEAL, survives several missions until the last one goes sideways.  Upon discharge he gets word that his father is very ill and he's called home.  Not just for a visit.  No Jeremiah is coming home for good, which means being baptized and working his way back into the community he left behind all those years ago.  That also means coming back to the girl he left behind.  A girl, now woman and widow, who isn't sure she can forgive.

Ava Jane Graber was devastated when Jeremiah left.  Not only did he leave her and their community, he essentially abandoned everything Amish. To go off and fight? To commit violence? Unthinkable in their community.  Eventually Ava Jane marries Jeremiah's best friend, they have two children, and they settle into a good, happy life.  Ava Jane loved her husband and when he dies tragically by drowning, she mourns his loss.  To see Jeremiah back in town is something that rocks her to the core. She knows she should forgive. She knows she should welcome him back into the community.  But she's not sure she can.

This story is one gut-punch after another, a perfect example of an emotionally rich story that never wallows in excessive angst.  All inspirational fiction has some sort of religious theme at it's core, and Worth focuses this story on the power of forgiveness: Jeremiah needing to forgive himself for the mission gone bad, Ava Jane needing to forgive Jeremiah for leaving all those years ago, Ava Jane needing to forgive herself over the guilt she feels over her husband's death.  And the tension in this story!  Whoa doggie!  Look, it's an Amish romance so no, there's absolutely no sex (closed door or otherwise) but the sparks these two set off, the looks, the touches, the emotionally charged dialogue!  Dear Lord, more of this please!

I suspect some readers will think Ava Jane is "too hard" on Jeremiah and hangs on to her anger for too long, but I understood it in relation to the community she's living in.  Jeremiah not only abandoned her, he abandoned everything they were raised in.  Amish do not pick up weapons of war and go off to shoot people.  Even as Jeremiah is reconciling his past, making peace with his bedridden, comatose father, and the members of the community, so too must Ava Jane make peace with the Jeremiah of today, so different from the boy she once deeply loved.

So if this book is emotionally charged, angsty and all things Wendy loves - why do I say Amish romance may not be "my jam?"  For one thing: too much God stuff.  Which, hello - Amish romance.  OF COURSE THERE'S TOO MUCH GOD STUFF!  Ahem.  Also, I could never completely get past my reservations of reading a romance set in an insular religious community.  I'm not sure squirky is the right word, but it was something I just couldn't entirely let go of.  Look, I know fetishizing when I read it (I can smell it like a fart in a elevator in m/m), and Worth doesn't do that here.  But still...Insular. Religious. Community.

But look, if Amish romance is your jam?  This one is amazing.  It finalled for a RITA this year and the writing alone in this book?  It should have finalled for the damn RITA.  Says the girl who swears in reviews for Amish romance novels.

Final Grade = A

ETA: I highlighted some of my favorite passages on GoodReads.

No comments: