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Finding common ground

Pleasant story depicts effect of Amish values on modern family

By Beverly Meyer

The Free Lance-Star

CYNTHIA KELLER has written another book set in Amish country that will captivate those looking for a story to curl up with during a break in the holiday rush.

Central to this wintertime story is the contrast between the lifestyles of two families, each representing a unique slice of American life.

Jennie Davis and her family have moved in financial desperation to central Pennsylvania  to a dilapidated old house left to her by a deceased relative. Husband Shep, who’s lost his job to the recession, plans to  resurrect the  dusty bicycle shop also bequeathed as a way to  support the family. Their two teen children are resentful at having to leave their hometown and friends, and struggle with the straitened condition in which the family finds itself.

One day, while walking the dog along a road adjacent to a sprawling nearby farm, Jennie notices an Amish woman sweeping the porch of her immaculate farmhouse. She eventually meets Mattie, whose  lifestyle and family circle offer a sharp contrast to anything Jennie has been exposed to before. The two become unlikely friends, as events unfold that cause each to need each other.

One of the themes of the story is Shep’s stubborn pride at being the sole breadwinner; he is adamant that Jennie not work. As things become more desperate, though, Jennie discovers a way to earn money—selling homemade candy at the local farmers market booth run by Mattie’s family. Despite Shep’s irritation, the venture also provides an unexpected avenue for Jennie to connect with her sullen daughter, one that also fosters the teen’s creativity and sense of purpose.

In turn, Mattie’s son Peter thinks he wants to “go out into the English world,” making the traditional break to try non-Amish ways. Jennie’s own son plays a surprising part in helping Peter come to a decision.

Interest in the Amish way of life has been fueled recently by a cable TV show tracking a group of Amish teens experiencing “rumspringa”—the rite of passage in which they must decide whether or not to remain within the culture. “An Amish Gift” offers a fascinating and insightful view of this subset of American life, highlighting the strengths and concepts that have permitted it to persist in these modern times.|

Keller has capably written a compelling and enjoyable story. With two Christmases bookending the story’s time period, the focus on how two disparate families successfully solve modern problems  will appeal to any age group.

Beverly Meyer is a copy editor  with The Free Lance–Star.


By Cynthia Keller

(Ballantine, $16, 256 pp.)


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