“The Secret” by Beverly Lewis: this is what a “Christian novel” should be

"The Secret," by Beverly Lewis

My review in a nutshell? I loved this book.

I had read the blurb, so I knew a little of what would develop in Beverly Lewis’s latest Amish novel, The Secret, due out in April. But having this foreknowledge or not, I’d have kept reading. The action in the book was pretty low key, but that’s what you’d expect, since the plot features an Amish family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Yet the story was sweet without being saccharine, a tale of a culture — personified by Grace Byler, the main character — that values community, good food, hearty work, and decent living.

I couldn’t put it down. Despite the rather strict rules in this community, you recognize the complexity of the relationships and the depths of the people’s feelings. And yes, you also see the difficulty these rules put the folk in, when their teaching against being preoccupied with “self” collides with a genuine crisis where they need, most of all, to be comforted.

You become truly interested in the members of the Byler family, wondering how they will cope with the crisis that strikes them, centred on their mother’s secret, and how they’ll choose their futures. The Amish way of life is presented not so much as “old fashioned” as it is simpler, more willing to share others’ joys and burdens than the one we readers come from. Reading about this community, you never feel condescending toward it. There might even be a little envy.

The book follows two plotlines: the main one, with Grace and her Amish family, and another featuring Heather, a young woman from the “outside” world, who faces a troubling medical diagnosis. At first these plots seem completely unrelated (apart from interesting parental parallels). But the stories finally begin to intersect near the end of the book, and you realize that they are going to intertwine more and more deeply.

But not in this book, not yet. Because I discovered, at the end, that this is only the first in a new series for Lewis: the “Seasons of Grace.” It’s a measure of her accomplishment that when I realized that the story will continue into other books, my first thought was, “Oh no, we have to wait to find out what happens now??”

I already can’t wait for the next book in this series. And having discovered Beverly Lewis and her novels, I want to read more. Although Lewis is a Christian novelist, the Christianity, in The Secret at least, was not preachy or in your face. The story of the people themselves was first and foremost, and never used as an excuse to sermonize or condemn.

Meanwhile, I have “a secret” of my own: my Mennonite ancestors moved up to Canada a century or so ago — from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The way this lovely region and its people were presented in the story made me feel the way Heather feels: that some day I must spend some time there, even if it’s just to walk and breathe.

10 thoughts on ““The Secret” by Beverly Lewis: this is what a “Christian novel” should be

  1. Flamm says:

    I really enjoy reading your book reviews. You write so well I’m tempted to get and read this book, though it’s not my cup of tea.

  2. flit says:

    St. Jacobs & Elmira… preferably on market day …. ever been? You can experience a touch o’ Mennonite in a day trip.

    Looking forward to reading this book; it sounds very interesting

  3. kashicat says:

    Hi you guys! Thanks for stopping by.

    Flit, I’ve actually been trying to figure out how to get there. When my ancestors moved up to Canada, they went to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and that’s where my great-grandfather came from before he moved out to Alberta, where my family is now. So I’d be visiting the “ancestral home” as much in that area as in Lancaster.

    Of course, it’s tough to get to either place without a vehicle. So I thought that if I can guarantee some income this summer, I’d try to figure out if I could visit via Greyhound or something.

    Meanwhile, about this book review. I always did my first review of a book here, at what I considered my “main” blog, and then rewrote it to put on Bookishgal. In this case, I think the one that ended up there turned out a bit better, alas. Still, I like this one too, and I really liked the book.

  4. flit says:

    It’s too bad I can’t drive any more. I used to love wandering there when we lived in Waterloo. Coukd have picked you up and made a day of it.

  5. kashicat says:

    Stephanie and Flit, you’re now both linked on my new Bookishgal blog. 🙂

    Flit, I know what you mean. I let my licence lapse because I don’t need it in Toronto, and don’t have a vehicle (and will never be able to afford one), but I did love the freedom, the year I did have a car back in Calgary.

    And there are so many things that are still relatively near to Toronto (compared to Calgary, where there was much more open, empty space to go through to get to things) that if one could even temporarily rent a car, the scope would broaden so much.

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