Charlotte Dolinsky had a difficult childhood, but her relationship with her brother has provided some security over the years. She was skeptical when he wrote to tell her that he had fallen in love with an Amish woman, but her life is turned truly upside down when she receives word that her brother has unexpectly passed away. When her letters to her brother’s girlfriend provide little in the way of answers, Charlotte sets off for Lancaster County determined to uncover the truth about her brother’s death. Having done some research about the Amish and picked up some suitable second-hand clothing, she’s convinced that she can fit into the community and do some digging without anyone discovering who she really is. Charlotte hasn’t been in Lancaster more than a day before she learns that there’s more to being Amish than putting on a bonnet and not using electricty. And, against all efforts to the contrary, she’s finding that she actually likes her brother’s girlfriend, Hannah. The more time she spends with Hannah’s family, the more she understands why Ethan felt comfortable here. In fact, she’s starting to think that it might not be so crazy to open her own heart up to God, especially when she begins seeing signs that remind of her Ethan and provide her with an overwhelming sense of peace. But this peace might not last so long if Hannah and her family uncover Charlotte’s true identity. Even if the Amish are known for their spirit of forgiveness, will they understand why Charlotte chose to deceive them?
Back in 2011 a friend leant me Beth Wiseman’s debut novel, Plain Perfect, and I fell in love. I sped through Beth’s novels as quickly as I could, fitting them in around university deadlines and reviewing commitments. Perhaps it’s because I read so many of them in quick succession, but it feels like it’s been ages since Beth released a new Amish novel. A quick look at GoodReads informed me that it’s actually only been two years, but it felt like forever! As much as I enjoy Beth’s contemporary novels, I’ve missed her Amish ones.
I love the way that Beth depicts her characters dealing with real life issues, devoid of romanticism or over-simplification. Her characters might ride in buggies and use propane refrigerators, but sometimes I can relate to them even more than characters in contemporary novels.
Have I built this book up too much? Are you going to be disappointed after all this hype? I hope not! Honestly, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this book as much as I did the Daughters of the Promise series. Several of those books are among my favourite Amish novels, and sadly it’s often the case that an author’s later books don’t contain the same originality. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case with Her Brother’s Keeper. Beth didn’t try to replicate her first series of books, and I’m grateful for that. I’m glad she chose to write about a different community, with an entirely new premise.
How believable is it that an English girl can trick her way into an Amish community? Well, as this book proves, it’s not very realistic at all. I had my doubts about how Beth could pull this plot off, and I was glad to discover that a large part of the story focused on Charlotte discovering that she wasn’t going to have an easy time of fooling Hannah’s family into believing that she was really Amish. From the moment she stepped into their home, the lies began trickling off her tongue. It was humorous and fascinating to watch Hannah attempt to assimilate herself into the family, and make excuses for the things she didn’t understand. Some of the lies were a little more ridiculous than others, but I’ll put their acceptance down to the Amish’s naturally trusting nature.
As long-time fans of Beth will know, she doesn’t shy away from sensitive subject matter.
We learn early on that Charlotte and Ethan both experienced emotional abuse at the hands of their parents and foster carers, abuse that may have contributed to Ethan’s mental health problems. There are even some difficult and poignant discussions about whether suicide is viewed as a sin, and if someone will go to Heaven if their mental health problems led to their death. While Beth doesn’t offer any specific theological answers to the questions that are posed, I appreciated the sensitive way in which the characters discussed these issues, and the conclusions they eventually came to.
I really enjoyed watching Hannah and Charlotte’s friendship develop, and witnessing them navigate the obstacles placed in the way of their relationship .Much like Charlotte, Hannah has trust issues, particularly when it comes to disclosing details of her relationship with Ethan, and her doubts and worries about why their relationship ended the way it did.
Both girls were beautifully honest and flawed, and it was encouraging to have two protagonists so realistically portrayed. Bonnet or not, I’m sure most readers will be able to relate to one of the girls, or maybe even both of them.
I’m torn when it comes to the spiritual aspect of the novel. While I loved the idea of God speaking to Charlotte through an image in the clouds, the development of Charlotte’s faith seemed rather sudden given that she didn’t seem to have much of a spiritual background (aside from her friendship with Ryan). I kind of wished the development of Charlotte’s faith had been more gradual, with more doubts. It seemed like it took a massive jump when she saw the picture in the sky, and I’m not sure how realistic this is for someone who previously had so little faith and refused to trust anyone.
While there is some romance in Her Brother’s Keeper, it doesn’t take centre stage, and I was thankful for this. As much as I love a good romance novel, I appreciated the opportunity to read about the relationship between Charlotte and her brother, and then Charlotte and Hannah.There are so many important relationships that aren’t romantic, and the depiction of Charlotte and Hannah’s budding friendship was particularly touching, especially as they helped each other overcome their personal burdens.
Honestly, I could probably think of even more things I loved about this book. I highly recommend Her Brother’s Keeper to readers who prefer their Amish fiction to be challenging yet encouraging, full of flawed characters, and completely unputdownable.