Title: The Brethren
Author: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Genre: Christian romance
In The Brethren, the third and final book in the Annie’s People series, Beverly Lewis continues to give her readers what they have found irresistible in her previous best-selling books. Set amongst the Amish in Paradise, Pennsylvania , the book opens with main character Annie Zook at odds with her strict father, preacher Jesse Zook, and living away from home. The fact that she has chosen to stay with her banned friend Essie (Esther Hochstetler) to help look after Essie and Zeke’s four children while Zeke is being held in jail after confessing to a murder makes the rift all the more galling to the elder Zook.
As is typical in Lewis’s books, more than one serpent has found its way into the Amish paradise. Under the settlement’s idyllic surface are misunderstandings, grudges, and secrets that even strict rules and authoritarian leaders can’t keep hidden forever. The result is a twisty plot that raises questions like did Zeke actually commit that murder, who is Ben Martin really, and will Annie make peace with her father and remain a plain woman or follow her heart to pursue her beloved art and become the fancy wife of her English beau?
Characters play an important part in this story. (As someone who hasn’t read the first two books in the series, I must admit the large cast of them, many of whom were introduced in earlier volumes, had me a little confused, though with close attention I got them all straight.) Main character Annie is a vital young woman who doesn’t always understand herself, is impulsive and strong willed yet hard-working, thoughtful, and kind. Zeke, in his mentally disturbed state is an interesting study. Preacher Jesse Zook seems the most complex character. While unyielding in his rigid stance toward Annie, he is demonstrably tender with his wife and shows a largeness of character at the end of the book that took me by surprise. Off-site characters Lou and Ben provide an interesting non-Amish viewpoint of Paradise.
The setting is also integral to these books about the Amish. Lewis, obviously familiar with their home and farm routines, describes these in satisfying detail, giving readers a sense of living in this picturesque and simple place. Yet even here progress is making inroads – though the juxtaposition of cell phones and automobiles with Amish life did feel a little bizarre. Lewis introduces just enough Amish-isms into the conversation of her Paradise characters (“Wonderful gut,” “purty,” “Ain’t so” etc) to keep them feeling authentic throughout.
Romance is woven through this book, as is the exploration of other relationships – parent-child and husband-wife. The ability and willingness of the Amish to forgive is a theme that plays a big part in the resolution of several of the story’s threads. As is typical in Lewis’s books, the Christian faith and its outworking is also a theme that remains front and center. In The Brethren there is a clash of the Amish belief system versus beliefs more in sync with a personal and literal interpretation of the Bible. Various characters risk being misunderstood and even banned by turning to evangelical ways. In the end, Lewis seems to come down on the side of having both – the outward simple lifestyle plus a personal though secret faith, as expressed by Annie and her beau: “They’d made a secret pact, vowing to live out their days with their eyes fixed on the Lord Jesus.”
If you’ve read the other two book in this series, The Preacher’s Daughter and The Englisher, you’ll not want to miss this conclusion to the story. If you haven’t read any Beverly Lewis before, this book is certainly representative of her popular storytelling style – a style that has seen previous books in this series, and this one, achieve a place on such prestigious bestseller lists as The New York Times and USA Today.