Kish Valley, Pennsylvania 1847
Susanna Hooley is a 21 year old Amish woman who is friends with Patsy Baxton, the daughter of Charles Baxton, a fiery Methodist revival preacher. They have been friends all their lives and are able to ignore or at least respect the differences between their faiths whilst still enjoying the common bond that they share. Susanna is being courted by Adam Yotter, who is the nephew of her next door neighbour. Life seems to be going along charmingly when Noah Kauffman, Susanna’s cousin starts very strange behaviour of appearing to go into a trance and start to preach the Word of God, which he is expressly forbidden to do. There is no explanation given for this behaviour, but almost every day, like clockwork, he will lose his sense of self and begin preaching sermons that would make even Charles Baxton proud.
This of course, is seen in a negative light according to the Amish Bishop. It is thought that Noah is trying to bring attention to himself (a grave issue for the Amish) and that he is capable of stopping the behaviour if he but wants to. Susanna gets pulled into helping his wife Phoebe look after Noah, as is Patsy. They see that Noah has no control over this behaviour, but is a danger to himself when he is preaching because he is unaware of his surroundings. Adam is unsure what to make of the situation. He wants to be faithful to the Bishops leading, having sworn an oath to be submissive to church leadership, yet he is also aware that Susanna wouldn’t knowingly go against the Bishop but is compelled to look after her cousin and has her father’s blessing. He is also influenced by his uncle who doesn’t believe that Noah is preaching for the wrong reasons and is open to the whole situation.
At the end of the novel a crisis situation occurs where Noah wanders off into the forest at the back of his property whilst in a trance and ends up in dire circumstances. This results in people from both religious persuasions to have to work together to save Noahs life. Of course, it is also the catalyst for Adam and Susanna working through their issues and coming together as a happily ever after book should.
Olivia Newport takes this very unusual situation of ‘sleeping preachers’ and has turned it into a short novel about the Amish and the English who lived among them. This story is thin and weak in substance. The whole sleeping preacher situation is really intriguing to modern ears, yet it isn’t really enough given within the book to merit a whole novel such as this. A kind of examination is inferred but the potential to see the break in the Amish groups to become Mennonite and Amish was not taken advantage of. There is very little in the way of other plot lines, unless you call the occasional disagreement between Adam and Susanna and their understanding of Noah’s behaviour as a deep plot line. Romance is part of the overall scope of the book, but as it is an Amish couple courting, there is very little in the way of actual romance and it doesn’t seem very likely the way it is portrayed.
Overall this book is an oddity. It has a really interesting premise as a foundation, yet it is not taken full advantage of. It can’t seem to make up its mind if it is a romance novel or an exploration of the sleeping preachers phenomenon that were so prevalent in the mid 1800’s. It could have been an interesting historical novel about the breakup of the Amish church and culture that happened in great numbers during this period, but ultimately, this too was ignored. In the end, this doesn’t satisfy any area of interest and comes over somehow as lacking.
A missed opportunity.