Adriana Brenneman is completely committed to the Amish faith, as well as her large, sprawling family. Life might not always be easy, but she would never think about running away, like her old friend Quill Schlabach did. His unexpected departure from their community hurt Adriana deeply, and accelerated her desire to remain in Summer Grove. Unlike her younger sister, she isn’t interested in dabbling in the ways of the world. Instead, Adriana is determined to open a cafe that will allow her to support her family, and hopefully convince them to stay committed to the Old Ways like her.
When she learns that one of her siblings has been in contact with Quill, Adriana struggles to keep her temper in check. She throws herself into her business plans even more than before, and tries to figure out which member of her family is considering leaving the faith. She’s completely unaware that her own parents have sought Quill’s help as well, trying to unravel a mystery that has hung over them since the night of Adriana’s birth, when she came home from the birthing centre wrapped in the wrong blanket. Does Adriana have ties to the English world that she isn’t aware of? How will she react when her parents reveal the secret surrounding her birth? Will the truth test her commitment to the faith she has always clung to?
Although Cindy Woodsmall is one of the most popular authors of Amish fiction, I hadn’t actually read many of her books prior to this year. I’m not sure what my excuse is—perhaps there are just so many Amish books out there that I overlooked her in favour of newer authors? I’ve actually had a copy of When the Heart Cries on my shelf for a while, and earlier this year I finally read it, and then purchased the second and third books in the trilogy on Audible. I usually prefer to read series where the novels are self-contained, but Cindy really has a knack for creating series that tug at your heart-strings and get you riled up over the injustices the characters are facing, even if their stories do span several books. Since I read the Sisters of the Quilt series right before I started Ties that Bind it was nearly impossible not to compare the two, but in the end I think this was a good thing. Cindy’s debut novel, When the Heart Cries, might have been released way back in 2008, but Ties that Bind was very reminiscent of it.
If you like family sagas that stretch over several books, allowing the characters plenty of time to grow and evolve, I think you’re going to like this new series just as much as the Sisters of the Quilt novels. I’m only one book in, but I can already tell that these novels are going to be a hit with long-term fans of Cindy.
But isn’t this book about babies that might have been swapped at birth? Doesn’t that automatically make it cheesy and convoluted? Good questions! Swapped at birth stories are right up there with amnesia romances, both of which I have a slight soft spot for. When done right, they can be incredibly compelling. When done wrong—yeah, sometimes they can be pretty cheesy. I think Ties that Bind falls comfortably into the first category. The explanation behind the events of Ariana’s birth actually makes a lot of sense, and I appreciated the journey that Ariana’s parents went through in order to figure out if there was any chance their daughter was not who they thought she was. I really hurt for them as they struggled to find out information, especially when they didn’t know where to turn or how to uncover the truth without letting anyone else know their secret. If you’ve ever read an Amish novel before, you’ll know that gossip is a big issue in Amish communities, and in this situation, any gossip about their investigation could have really hurt Ariana.
Ariana was sometimes a difficult character to like. She’s young and naively committed to everything about the Amish lifestyle.
As you get to know her, it becomes clear that her staunch commitment to the faith is almost a reaction to the fact that an old crush, Quill, ran off with another friend several years ago. Their abandonment of the faith, along with the fact that they kept their leaving a secret from Adriana, has flung her completely in the opposite direction. I kind of wished we’d had the chance to get inside Adriana’s head a bit more. Since her story is going to span several books, I’m sure we’ll learn more in the next instalment, but there were times that I grew a little weary of Adriana’s thoughts mostly focusing on her anger at Quill for abandoning her, her struggle to trust anyone fully, and her staunch disapproval of anyone considering leaving the faith. After several years of brooding, she’s made up her mind about what she thinks of anyone who has doubts about the Amish life, and it’s going to take a lot to change that. I’m sure I was just as idealistic and headstrong as Adriana at that age, but I can see why her attitude might put some people off.
I was really fascinated by the details about Quill helping people leave the Amish faith, seemingly spiriting entire families away in the dead of night. I remember watching a TV show about people (often ex-Amish) who helped teenagers leave their communities, but I’ve not heard much about entire families leaving. It makes sense that they would need assistance with finding a new home, new jobs, and paying for all the expenses of English life, after living in a community that is known for supporting its own. As the story evolves, Adriana learns that one of her own sisters has contacted Quill to ask for help, and she’s determined to stop her from leaving. I guessed pretty early on who the sister in question was, but I still appreciated this little twist. It was interesting to learn about the reasons why people might decide to uproot their entire family. It’s not so much about wanting modern conveniences or different clothing, as it is about needing support when difficult situations arise that the community might not previously have experience with.
One of the things that I love about Cindy’s writing is that she never romanticises the Amish lifestyle.
She writes about the parts that aren’t so comfortable to consider—the hurt that can come about from gossip, the staunch belief that anyone not Amish isn’t truly saved, the lack of support for unconventional decisions that might be medically necessary, the push to conform, the refusal to talk about uncomfortable issues. These topics might not be so fun to read about, but they make her Amish communities seem true, and for me, that makes them all the more interesting and appealing. I like books that challenge my preconceptions and make me wonder what I would do in a certain situation. Adriana might be frustrating at times, but I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for her in the next book in the Amish of Summer Grove series.