“A Plain Leaving” by Leslie Gould

Cover of titular book, featuring a woman standing in a black apron dress with blue sleeves underneath, holding a Kapp; in the background, a horse and buggy in the direction of a big oak treeBook: “A Plain Leaving” by Leslie Gould
Series: The Sisters of Lancaster County #1
Published by Bethany House Publishers on 3rd October, 2017
Genres: Amish fiction, Christian fiction, Romance
Format: Paperback, 345 pages
Rating: 3/5⭐
Source: Bethany House (received for free in exchange for an honest review)
Goodreads

At age twenty, Jessica Bachman left her two beloved sisters and her Amish community after clashing with the new bishop about her role in the family and the future of their farm. She tried to convince Silas Kemp, who’d been courting her for two years, to join her, but when he said no, she fled anyway.

Three years later, she returns home for the first time since leaving Lancaster to attend her father’s funeral. Her arrival back revives all sorts of emotions—yearnings and sorrows alike. Jessica knows things will never return to how they were. But in seeing Silas again, she can’t help but wonder what might have been.

Struggling to decide where her next step should take her, she learns the story of a Revolutionary War-era ancestor that echoes her own choices.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I enjoyed it. On the other, I found myself spending more time pondering what movement of Amish the community in the novel was.

Story

A Plain Leaving, pilot of The Sisters of Lancaster County, focuses on “prodigal daughter” Jessica Bachman, who learns of the cautionary tale of Ruby Bachman (October 1777). The tale resembles much of what happens in Jessica’s life. I love historical and Amish fiction, so these two genres intertwining was an interesting twist. It felt meta, but I enjoyed how it included a modern-day story, too.

Bechdel test

For the first several pages (I stopped keeping track circa page 70), all Jessica focuses on is Tom (current boyfriend) or Silas (previous courtship beau). I understand she’s Amish and Amish women are raised to settle down with an Amish man and have children, but I still believe there has to be a balance in this regardless of that “purpose”.

Ruby, on the other hand, is more concerned with caring for her Mamm and Zachary. Love is there, but is then challenged when she experiences hardships and becomes more empathetic to Englischers.

Conflict

What I loved most about The Proving was how Amanda’s focus and actions did not solely rely on which path (for Jessica, it’s more a man) she chose. Like Amanda, Jessica’s conflict resides more within her family, but extends to how she felt a lack of community, and thus a less godly connection, from her community.

Amish grace is a beautiful thing, but this story didn’t do it justice. Each guy in Jessica’s life was accompanied by conflict, whether indirectly or directly—Tom, who was ignorant of Amish culture and remained so, who also had very little time for Jessica or a home life; Silas, who meant returning to Lancaster as an Amish woman, despite the elephant-in-the-room conflict held with Bishop Jacobs and the lack of spiritual connection she felt from a community of people who were supposed to provide it.

The conflict was seemingly swept under the rug after she decided which road to take. I would have liked to read more about her journey to that process than I did in the last chapter; it felt cheap.

Foreshadowing to sequel

SO THE FORESHADOWING IS NOT LOST. I looked up what #2 would be, and it focuses on prim Marie, who thinks herself superior because she more looks into her faith for what people are doing wrong. I love coming-of-age stories such as these, so I do look forward to A Simple Singing. It does seem as though Bishop Jacobs’s understanding of life, faith and empathy are maturing, having a “bad boy” son and all.

The last 300 pages are spent foreshadowing this—or at least paving the path.

Writing

There are times reminiscent of Here and Gone, which I’m still not a fan of. Like, in first person POV, I can understand, but in third person POV, even if it’s a story being told, I feel like it should not contain the same fragmented sentences as that of first person POV.

Starting around page 300, typos ensued. Previous typos were dismissed, because the book looked and felt edited, and—to quote Hannah Montana—everyone makes mistakes. But I felt a lot like the editing got sloppy and lazy toward the end, which didn’t help the cheap feeling.

Also toward the end, I felt less like Jessica was reflecting and more like the author was proselytizing. This, in part, is possibly due to the telling feeling I received as opposed to the showing one—the abrupt ending + summary that is the last chapter.

Lastly, I wasn’t a fan of the chapters being as long as they were—twenty pages is fine and all, but considering there were those “break points” (typically formatted as “***” centered in a manuscript; don’t know what else to call them) several times throughout a chapter, I felt many chapters could have easily been separated into two chapters instead. The chapters wherein Ruby’s story were told made more sense as full chapters than the ones with Jessica’s first person POV.

Overall

  • Despite the issues I have with the chapters and my feelings about the ending, I do look forward to the sequel. I like Amish fiction, I like this historical cautionary tale-inside-Amish fiction thing going on, and I’m curious to witness Marie’s evolution.
  • I hope the third novel in The Sisters of Lancaster County focuses on Leisel, since she’s the youngest Bachman sister and…I mean, it’d make sense? I admire the path she’s taking and how deeply she feels it is what she is supposed to do.
  • I’d like more knowledge of which Amish movement they’re part of, as not every Amish community/movement rejects everything Englisch.

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