The Parting, book one of “The Courtship of Nellie Fisher,” Beverly Lewis shares the story of Nellie Mae Fisher, a perceptive young woman struggling to endure the heartbreak and confusion that often follows the death of a loved one - in this case Suzy, Nellie's younger sister. As Nellie struggles with Suzy's death and the gossip that seems to stem from it, she finds herself buffeted by greater challenges: her growing feelings toward Caleb Yoder; the gradual emergence of a New Order that is in direct opposition to the strongholds of the Old Order and deep-seated traditions of the Amish community to which Nellie was born; and a more personal shift of faith among those closest to her.
In the same way that Nellie Fisher conjures up sweet treats with the ingredients in her shop, Nellie's Simple Sweets, so Beverly Lewis has conjured a simple but profound exploration of the Amish faith and the inner questioning that compels young women and men to cross that bridge between youth and innocence in search of a deeper understanding of what they believe and why and how it is supposed to help them shape their own futures.
When first I picked up the book I struggled to really connect with the main character, thinking it was written more for teen girls. I stayed with it for a few pages and found myself wanting to turn the next page, and the next. The book has an unassuming deliberateness to it, unlike action/adventure books that rely so much on complicated sudden shifts and graphic visualization that are in your face and anything but reflective. Lewis' book commands a deeper mental and emotional connection. It takes a talented writer to get a forty-year-old reader to want to tag along with a teenager, particularly an Amish one, for 347 pages. The other characters, whom Nellie Fisher encounters throughout her everyday life, are simple and fascinating. They're much like the friends and neighbors many of us can claim as our own. While this book will not appeal to those seeking thrill for thrill's own sake, it will appeal to those seeking a story that might cause them to think about their own faith, the quality of their family relationships, and may just have the effect of making them think about how they might respond when faced with life-altering decisions.
The Parting is not perfect, however. Like Amish quilts, it has its flaw. Whether it was intentional or not, only the creator knows. In this book, the one point of contention I had was the near-constant inferences surrounding Suzy's death, which haunted nearly every chapter and were so heavily veiled that they became, at times, a reason to put the book down rather than to press on. I believe that had the author dealt with the characters' suspicions earlier in the story, or made them a bit more overt and fewer in number throughout, the pesky phrase "Suzy's death" might have been avoided. It has the effect of drawing the reader's attention away from Suzy as a character. In short, it upstages her, repeatedly.
Despite that, I'm looking forward to the second book in “The Courtship of Nellie Fisher” and trust that it, too, like Ms. Lewis' other books, will be equally engaging and thought-provoking as this one has been.