Despite the adage not to judge a book by its cover, the visual impact of a modern fiction book has much to do with its success or failure. Not one to normally notice what I am reading, my husband's attention recently gravitated to the cover of The Fiddler by Beverly Lewis. He wanted to know what the book was about, what the young woman who was modestly dressed and caressing a violin was doing seated by an Amish man. Right away I will tell you that it was the violin that caught hubby's attention. About 11 years ago he began to play violin; in fact, he took lessons from a then 16 yr old talented young woman. Come to think of it, she sort of looked like the girl on the cover, and like Amelia in the story, playing violin was her life. Anyway, before I even started reading the book, we wondered if playing an instrument would be a point of conflict in the story.
Again we are connecting with personal experience. Over the past thirty years, our rural Wisconsin community has gained many Amish neighbors and in fact our next door neighbors are Amish. My husband likes to play his violin outside on summer evenings and sometimes his guitar. We've never received any complaints about it (his playing is beautiful), but he and the neighbor father and son have had some conversations about music. We've been able to enjoy some of their hymn sings by being outside on Sunday evenings or opening our windows. The teenage son expressed interest in learning to play guitar, but later words with dad reinforced that the Plain people would frown on that.
With our personal experiences, any Amish fiction I read is with a critical eye, and I am always comparing the fictional Amish groups from different geographic areas to our local Amish, who are definitely Old Order. The Fiddler is strong with accurate details and an interesting plot. The story begins as unknown fiddler Amy Lee wows a country music crowd as she performs the opening act for Tim McGraw. But the allure of the bluegrass/country scene can not claim Amy for long; she is really Amelia DeVries, a former child prodigy who now is one of the top classical solo violinists in the country. Soon her agent finds out about her secret "country" life and demands that Amy returns home. Worried that her parents and trumpeter boyfriend will be upset with her recent activities, Amelia agrees. A raging rain storm, a missed turn, and a flat tire change all that, as rain soaked Amy ends up at a cabin in the Pennsylvania woods near Hickory Hollow.
Inside the cabin, twenty five year old Michael has left his Amish community yet again. Unable to choose between his desire for advanced drafting education/modern life and honoring his parents' wishes, Michael has never joined the church. Now at 25, his presence in the community is a problem. Michael rescues the stranded Amy, is captivated by her beauty and resemblance to his niece (who is caught up in her own venture into the modern world), and then by her haunting musical talent. Michael arranges a brief respite for Amy (Amelia) into the
Amish community of Hickory Hollow which will create some waves and possibly change lives.
I was pleased this story didn't quite follow the prescribed story line that I expected. As I always compare the fictional Amish with my real community, I question how readily any families here would open their homes to an Englisch stranger, not just for a meal, but for an extended stay. I was also a little disappointed that the crowd that the young niece fell into were portrayed as drunks and derelicts. I'm not sure such a dark portrayal of the Englisch crowd is prevalent in many Amish fiction stories. I feel that most Plain people who are caught between the two worlds do not face such clear black/white differences. Michael's dilemma was much more realistic and better developed to me. In the end, this is a charming story of honoring one's parents while following one's heart's desires and being confident that those desires honor God.
Check out the
Beverly Lewis website for information on this new Hickory Hollow series and other titles by this top Christian author. There is even a podcast with the author herself.
Target audience: Young adult and adult readers of Amish fiction
Rating: 4 stars