This book took me a long time to read, partly because I had a lot of other books to read for university that I had to finish by specific deadlines, and partly because this book just didn't grip me. For the most part, it was a quick and easy read. While the speech sometimes seems stilted and forced, it wasn't too badly written, so it wasn't as if I was stumbling over awkward prose. A few of my friends adored this book, while others found it difficult to enjoy. I tried not to start this book with a bias, but considering the views of some of my friends I expected that I wasn't going to like this book. So I was surprised to find that I could actually relate to Ella at the beginning of the story. I'm engaged to be married in four months and honestly, I could understand Ella's pain at her situation - she was not yet a wife, yet she's lost the man she was meant to marry. Does she still get the respect of a widow? Do others lessen her pain because she was never truly Aden's wife? This part of the story was probably the most believable and relatable section for me. I actually struggled to read it as I didn't want to think about what I would do if I lost Simon before we were married. It's just too painful to think about. I think Jerry Eicher captured Ella's distress quite well at this point.
But ultimately, this was the best part of the story. After this, the book moved along very slowly, often focusing on every day events that didn't lead anywhere. Although Ella wrote in her diary about how she was coping with her loss, I never felt like I really got inside her head after the funeral. Apart from the first part of the book, I didn't really connect with any of the characters. Everything felt surface-deep and some of the characters (especially Dora) seemed to change personalities to fit the situation they were in.
My biggest problem with this book is the presence of superstition and the way that everyone thinks that there will be a series of three deaths, and that this is God's Will. As another reviewer has noted, this book gave a really negative image of God. While a lot of Amish novels discuss the issue of God's Will, they never put God across as so harsh as it came across in this book. Whenever anyone begins to question the reasons for the deaths, their parents or church elders tell them that it's sinful to question God's ways and that he obviously meant life to turn out this way. I'm sorry, but this is not how I interpret God's will, nor how a lot of other Amish novels have approached it. Bad things happen in life all the time, but I believe that because God has given us free will, these bad things are the consequences of our own actions, not God playing puppet-master and reaching down from heaven to senselessly kill people because they're not conforming to God's will. I would say that God does have a plan for our lives and when bad things happen we need to trust that he will help us get through the situation and that something good will come out of it, but if my fiance suddenly died, I would not believe that God had had killed him because we weren't meant to be together. Seriously, if I were in Ella's situation and everyone was telling me that, actually, it must not have been God's will for me to marry this man - I would lose trust in God. Also, the fact that everyone talked about God's will all the time meant that they never seemed to voice any opinions of their own. No one ever consoled Ella on her loss, they just staunchly told her that it was God's will and she would get over Aden's loss in time. And don't even get me started on the superstitious "Things come in threes" aspect of the story. I don't know why the author used this concept as it didn't seem fitting with the Amish belief system. It displayed a lack of trust in God, in my opinion. Everyone was scared constantly that they would be the next death. God does not want his people to live in fear of when he will next strike someone down. So, I'm sorry to those who did like the pattern of threes in this book, but I really struggled with the "theology" of God put across.
On a lesser note, Eicher switched between actual German and what appeared to be German written as it would be pronounced by the characters' accents throughout this book. As someone who reads a lot of Amish fiction and speaks German, this bugged me. I have to assume that "Da Huh" was "Der Herr"? And so on. But then later in the book he had a character speak an entire sentence in regular German, so I'm not sure why he chose so spell some words in this weird phonetic manner. If you don't speak German this probably won't spoil your reading experience, but as I knew what the characters were actually saying it bugged me.
I really do want to rate this book higher, but I have to admit that if I hadn't bought this book for my book club discussion I probably wouldn't have finished it. Now that I have finished it, I am intrigued to see how Ella's life turns out, but I won't be rushing to buy the next book. I'd borrow it if it was in the library or if a friend leant it to me, though. Ultimately, I finished this book, but I had to make myself pick it up and read it, rather than turning to something more interesting. I think the story of a young Amish woman recovering from the death of her beloved could have great potential, but the characters weren't engaging enough, the story focused on a lot of unnecessary events that lead nowhere, and it ended up becoming a story about a hateful God who made his people superstitious and fearful. If this book had been about how Ella's trust in God had brought her through her period of sadness then maybe I would have enjoyed it more, but this was not the case. The start of this book really did have some potential and I wish Eicher had continued to focus on Ella's emotions more as I did feel emotionally invested in the story for a time.
Others have really enjoyed this book, so check out their reviews as well. This definitely seems like a marmite book - you either love it or hate it. I was somewhere in between to begin with, but ultimately this is one of those books that could have made it to the "okay" rating but ultimately was just a bit disappointing. It gets 2 out of 5 from me.
This wonderful introduction to Ella Yoder tells a story of a young woman who's life changes vastly from the expected. It follows her and her community as they bear losses as well as blessings as they follow God's plan for their lives.