It’s 1971, and Betsie Troyer’s peaceful and predictable life is about to become anything but.
When their parents flee the Amish, nineteen-year-old Betsie and her seventeen-year-old sister Sadie are distraught. Under the dubious guidance of a doting aunt, the girls struggle to keep the secret, praying their parents will return before anyone learns the truth—a truth that may end all hopes of Betsie’s marriage to Charley Yoder.
Worse still, Betsie must learn a trade while she boards with a dysfunctional Englisher family: Sheila, a twelve-year-old desperately searching for a friend and in dire need of her mother; the free-spirited mother, who runs off to "find herself" on the stage; the angry father whose structured life crumbles; and Michael, a troubled college dropout nearly killed in the Kent State Massacre.
Thrust into the English world, Betsie must grapple with the realities of war and miniskirts, pot parties and police brutality, protests and desertion. Can she help the Sullivan family and find peace in her new surroundings, or must she forget the bargain she made and seek refuge back in Plain City with protective and reliable Charley?
In The Bargain (Kregel), Stephanie Reed has written a different type of Amish fiction, one where the main character is placed in the English world, living with a dysfunctional family and working in a harness shop. Opposites in both character personalities and cultures make for an interesting read.
The story is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam years. Having been a graduate school student in 1971, I can vividly recall the unrest, tension and heartbreak of that era and I think Stephanie did an excellent job creating a realistic feel of the time.
Betsie is struggling to deal with her parents' leaving the Amish church in order to become followers of Christ, and Stephanie brings out an element of the Amish faith that is often hidden in fiction. Betsie reflects: "Joining the Amish church and keeping every rule in the Ordnung, that was the surest way to maybe go to heaven someday. . . . But even the Amish couldn't know which place they were going to end up in until they stood in front of the good Lord Himself and He revealed it. It was prideful to believe otherwise." But Betsie's parents had read the Scriptures for themselves and sought freedom in Christ. Betsie's Dat wants her to understand why they made the decision to leave and to come with them. "Do you want to know what true wickedness is?" he asks. "It's teaching people that they can't be sure of their salvation before their time on this earth is up."
Michael, a college dropout, is a troubled young man, greatly affected by the Kent State shootings on a day when he was walking to class. "They died, but I'm still here. And I don't understand why. Because apparently I escaped death solely so I could be drafted and sent to Vietnam to die." Betsie and Michael gradually form a friendship, maybe because they each sense a need in the other. And I loved the humor in the scene where Betsie uses her sewing skills to "repair" Michael's torn hippie jeans.
I'm not always a fan of storylines where an Amish character is thrust into the English world, but Stephanie did a good job at creating an unusual story that goes beyond traditional Amish fiction. She also gives some deep and thought-provoking questions at the end, perfect for group discussion.
The Bargain is the first book in the Plain City Peace series - and while it reaches a satisfactory conclusion, it's obvious there is much more to come. I believe fans of Amish fiction will enjoy this novel.
Stephanie Reed lives on the outskirts of Plain City, Ohio, site of a once-thriving Amish community. She gleans ideas for her novels from signs glimpsed along the byways of Ohio, as she did for her previous books, Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River.
Learn more at litfusegroup.com and stephanielreed.com.
Be sure to enter Stephanie's contest for the chance to win a Kindle Fire + The Bargain. Contest ends on Sunday, October 27.
This book was provided by Litfuse Publicity and Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.