Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim, ©2013

The Outcast

Raised in an Old Order Mennonite community, Rachel Stoltzfus is a strong-willed single woman, content living apart from mainstream society until whispers stir the moment her belly swells with new life. Refusing to repent and name the partner in her sin, Rachel feels the wrath of the religious sect as she is shunned by those she loves most. She is eventually coerced into leaving by her brother-in-law, the bishop.

But secrets run deep in this cloistered community, and the bishop is hiding some of his own, threatening his conscience and his very soul. When the life of Rachel’s baby is at stake, however, choices must be made that will bring the darkness to light, forever changing the lives of those who call Copper Creek home.
I read all of The Outcast to the end. It is a harrowing adventure of strength and bravery ~ to step into the unknown. Rachel leaves her community, Copper Creek, with her infant son, Eli, and is taken in by driver, Ida Mae, proprietor of an Amish goods store. The illness and subsequent impending surgery of Eli pulls them all together, revealing truth and requiring change.
When Russell drops her off at Ida Mae's, Rachel finds that the blue room she and Eli share has been changed to a saltwater green so pale, it would be hard to discern it had any color at all if not for the calming presence the new paint exudes. Curtains as fine as dandelion seed hang over the small window and are pulled to the side with green ribbon, allowing light to flood in where the heavy, Western-themed material once blocked it. The bunk beds had been traded for the wrought-iron twin that was covered with quilts in the store. An eyelet-lace coverlet and pillows replace the blue and red comforters. A white crib with yellow covers and bumpers is against the wall where the toy chest used to be. A changing table is also there, covered with the same material as the crib.
   "You don't like it?" Ida Mae asks, mistaking Rachel's silence.
   Rachel pulls Eli against her chest, which heaves with the magnitude of love she feels for this woman who was a stranger a few months ago but now feels more like family than her own flesh and blood. "Oh, no. It's the kindest thing anyone's ever done for me." She smiles at Ida Mae through her tears and kisses Eli's forehead. "Anyone's ever done for us."
   Ida Mae waves her hand in a self-deprecating gesture, yet it is easy to see the pride on her face. "Oh, it was time for a change."
   --The Outcast, 239
This is a first novel by Jolina Petersheim. She is a strong writer and very capable of addressing hard subjects with gentleness and exposing truth. I am reminded of Lamentations 2:13-14:
13 What can I say for you?
    With what can I compare you,
    Daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you,
    that I may comfort you,
    Virgin Daughter Zion?
Your wound is as deep as the sea.
    Who can heal you?
14 The visions of your prophets
    were false and worthless;
they did not expose your sin
    to ward off your captivity.
The prophecies they gave you
    were false and misleading.

Hidden sin is an entrapment, a snare. The characters are unable to go forward until truth is revealed and forgiveness is sought and given. Repentance is necessary and brings freedom for all involved for generations to come.

One interesting naming is of the sisters, being Rachel and Leah. An important revelation was truth Leah gave Rachel. Truth wins.
Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.

   --Proverbs 16:18
An important highlight of the story was the confession of a community leader that freed others too. As in the verses above, it was necessary for his iniquity to be exposed to release him from captivity. Pride had him separated and secluded in a self-made prison. I would like to read a continuing story of the outcome of his change.

The main negative for me was from the beginning having the newly deceased man become one of the narrators throughout the story. I think the overview could have been done without his voice, such as Earl Hamner did as the writer/narrator for The Waltons John-Boy stories. He also "returns" to talk to his son. Because of his inclusion, I am unable to recommend this novel. A visual description leading to the one night encounter would have benefited being omitted as the outcome producing a child already was given.

Jolina Petersheim 
Jolina Petersheim holds degrees in English and communication arts from the University of the Cumberlands. Though The Outcast is her first novel, her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications. Her blog is syndicated with the Tennessean's "On Nashville" blog roll, as well as featured on other creative-writing sites. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughter. Follow Jolina and her blog at jolinapetersheim.com.

*** A copy of Jolina Petersheim's novel, The Outcast was sent to me from Tyndale Blog Network. My review is written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

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