When her father can no longer provide for his large family, Fanny Price is sent away from her small Amish community in Colorado to live with her aunt’s family in Mount Hope, Ohio. Fanny immediately feels out of place at the Bontrager farm but finds a friend in her aunt’s stepson, Elijah Bontrager.
As time passes, Fanny begins to long for their friendship to blossom into something more, but her hopes are dashed when Elijah starts to court someone else. With her uncle pressuring her to marry a man who can take her off his hands, Fanny must learn to rely on God for her future.
Fanny watched this unexpected interplay between Mary and Elijah, confused at first by their reaction to each other. They were comfortably uncomfortable with each other in a way that said far more than their words indicated. In the eight years she had known Elijah she had never witnessed him act so ferhoodled.
“I suppose the question everyone is wanting to ask,” Miriam said, pushing against Jeb so that she was no longer hidden, “is how long you will be staying in Mount Hope. A good long time, or will you be returning soon?”
Fanny frowned. Hadn’t Miriam already asked Mary that very question? Only this time, she directed the question to Henry.
“Until Council,” he responded, his eyes staring directly into Miriam’s in a much too forward way to suit Fanny. “Our district will have that the second Sunday in October.”
“Well,” Miriam responded. “That’s long enough anyway, I reckon.”
Fanny wasn’t certain if she meant that it was long enough or too long. Since their own Council meeting would be held on October 16 after their regular worship service, the Coblentzes would be in Mount Hope for almost five weeks.
“Ach, Miriam,” Jeb said, turning so that he, once again, blocked her from Henry’s view. “You’ll be plenty busy with preparations for our own celebrations, I imagine. Not too much time for visiting with our own wedding on November first!” He gave an insincere laugh as her eyes flashed angrily at him. “Well now, I think I see Benjamin over there. Kum, Henry. Let me introduce you before the singing starts, ja?”
Before Miriam knew what happened, Jeb had led Henry away, guiding him toward another group of young men near a folding table with pitchers of lemonade and meadow tea, leaving Miriam standing before Mary and, as such, with the sole responsibility of now introducing her to the other women.
Fanny smiled to herself as she saw Miriam struggle with the not-so-obvious slight from Jeb. Anyone else watching probably would not have noticed. His behaviour toward Miriam was so casual, and the men so often separated from the women, that he appeared no more interested in her than he was in a bale of hay. Only every so often he might glance in her direction, as if checking up on what she was doing and whom she stood by. It was such a slight indication that most people would never see it. Fanny, however, found that by observing in silence she could often discern what so many people often missed.
This is the first of Sarah Price’s Amish Jane Austen retellings that I’ve read. Mansfield Park is not my favourite of Jane Austen’s novels, but that being said, the story translates well to the Amish setting, and was generally an enjoyable read.
For those who are familiar with the original story, there won’t be any surprises in the plot. For those who are not familiar with it, much of the action revolves around the arrival of brother and sister, Henry and Mary Coblentz, in the Mount Hope Amish community. The novel opens with a prologue showing ten year old Fanny being sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Mount Hope, and then skips forward eight years to a time when Fanny and her four cousins, Thomas, Elijah, Miriam, and Julia, are all of marriageable age.
Fanny tends to be overlooked by her cousins, barring Elijah, unless they want her to complete their chores so they may go courting; or, in the case of Thomas, get up to whatever young Amish men get up to on Rumschpringe. But when Mary Coblentz arrives with her brother, even Elijah seems to have turned his attention elsewhere. Fanny is the only one reluctant to socialise with a man who doesn’t hesitate to flirt with engaged women, and to see beyond the veneer of respectability the siblings present. She is also the only one who can see the tensions that are mounting as Miriam and Julia vie for Henry’s attention, right under the nose of Miriam’s betrothed. And she knows ‘for sure and certain’ that Mary is the wrong woman for Elijah.
The one things that slowed this story down for me was the author’s habit of telling (at length) rather than showing, and of spending time explaining aspects of Amish life beyond what was required to understand the story. I’m the sort of reader who prefers a simple ‘Elijah shifted his weight from one foot to another’, rather than the longer and more unwieldy, ‘She noticed that Elijah shifted his weight from one foot to another as if he felt uncomfortable with his father’s words.’ I don’t want the characters to interpret what they see for me. It’s far more engaging for me, as a reader, if I am able to interpret the character’s actions for myself, without the help of the narrating character.
I will say, however, that there is a nice flow the writing, and if the idea of a Jane Austen novel in an Amish setting appeals to you, then you will probably enjoy this one. Personally, I’m interested to see how she handles Pride & Prejudice in First impressions.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review.
Release date: 6 September 2016
Author’s website: http://sarahpriceauthor.com/