Friday, July 11, 2014


Their dress makes them noticeable, as does their dedication to faith,  their rejection of modern forms of transportation and comforts, and their close-knit communities. But for some of us, the Amish lifestyle is still an enigma. A book like Ellie, by Mary Christner Borntrager, gives the average reader a more detailed glimpse into Amish life, and helps us understand their customs a little better.

The book follows the life of an Amish girl named Ellie Maust from early school age to adult. Over the course of her life, we see her struggle with temptation, do a multitude of chores, make friends, and face her fears. Rather than follow a "hero's quest" type of plot, the story reads more like a retelling of a series of short events in Ellie's life. The story pacing is slow and leisurely, with some neat details (like the bedding and outhouse) woven into it.

A majority of the chapters are spent on specific moments in Ellie's childhood, whereas the teen and early adult years fly by in a few quick chapters, making the book slightly unbalanced in development. Other than the cover, there are no illustrations. This is the first book in a series. Some other titles are listed below. This book was originally published in 1988, which is the version available on Amazon. The newer 2014 version I read may be listed soon.

What I Like: I appreciated getting a glimpse of the Amish lifestyle. From sunup until sundown, we see how the family works together to care for each other and the household. Chores include milking the cows, canning food, caring for siblings, tending a garden, and making their own straw mattresses. Children are taught responsibility and duty. I had no idea how very little playtime the children get, so that was an eye-opener too.

What I Dislike: Unfortunately, I have many dislikes with this story, but let me pinpoint  two. First, I was bothered by the way those outside the Amish community were portrayed. For example, the public school children tease and shun Ellie, and her teacher isn't very understanding. (Is it so hard to believe there are wonderful Christian students, administrators, and teachers in the public schools who would reach out to a person in a situation like Ellie?) Later in the book, the children of a former classmate visit Ellie. The children are ill-mannered, ungrateful, and whiny, and the mother-- who is herself lazy and self-centered--yells at them (I'm going to kill you!), which makes Ellie oh-so-glad for her Amish upbringing. (Again, is it so hard to believe there are wonderful Christian families with well-mannered, respectful children outside the Amish community?)

Second, I was bothered by how those within the Amish community were portrayed. After pointing out how horrible the general public treated Ellie, I expected to see the beauty of the Amish community highlighted. Instead, when Ellie travels to the comfort of her Amish church... wow, the Amish children tease and shun Ellie, same as the public school kids! Not only that, but Ellie's father comes across as unforgiving, judgmental, and surly. Perhaps worst of all is an Amish girl they hired to help the family, who went out of her way to mistreat Ellie. That character came across as spiteful and vindictive (though the father seemed to applaud her strong Amish sensibility). I was hard pressed to find a likable Amish figure in the story outside of Ellie.

Overall, I had hoped to see the enactment of the powerful Christian faith I always associated with the Amish, but instead I saw a faith based not on grace but on works, rules, forced obedience, and superficial piety. I started the book wanting to like the Amish people, but found myself disappointed by their seeming hypocrisy. Luckily, outside experience has taught me otherwise. I hold a great respect for the Amish people and their way of life.

Overall Rating: Ho-hum for me. However, to be fair, those with a greater interest in Amish communities might rate it higher. I also suspect some of the other books in the series might prove to be stronger.

Age Appeal: 8 and up

Publisher Info: Herald Press, 2014; ISBN: 978-0836134680; Paperback, 193 pgs., $8.99 (Note: This information comes from the advanced review copy I received. The one currently available on Amazon has the same ISBN except the last digit is "1" instead of "0", and it only has 168 pages.)

This book is not available at
You can buy it at

Special Info: Other titles in the series include:MandyAndyDanielRebeccaRachelReuben, and Sarah

1 comment:

Lori Z. Scott said...

The book links were broken, but I have fixed them now.