on 14 February 2014
Izzy Mueller has never felt like she properly fitted into her Amish family, and she’s forced to make some tough decisions about her future her confusion seems to mount. Although everyone tells her that she’s a gifted caregiver, she also loves sewing, particularly costumes for her Mennonite friend, Zed Bayer’s, films. Her friendship with Zed always seemed simple, but now that she’s nearing adulthood and Zed is planning to study film-making at a Mennonite college, Izzy realises that her feelings for Zed might have spiralled out of control. What would it mean for her family and her community if she fell in love with a Mennonite?
Before Izzy has the chance to talk to Zed about her feelings for him, he leaves their community to attend his college in Indiana. Their period of separation gives Izzy time to think about her future prospects—both her for her career and her love life—and delve into a family mystery that Zed wants to feature in his next film. Zed and Izzy know that both their descendents were alive when the massacre of a local Indian tribe occurred, and think that their families’ involvement might make for a good story. But as Izzy discovers centuries-old documents, she realises that the mystery might be more convoluted than they initially expected. As she uncovers the story of her great-grandmother, Abigail, Izzy feels a kinship towards this long-forgotten woman who also had to make some difficult decisions that impacted her family and her faith. Will Abigail’s story help Izzy to make the choice between her faith and the man she’s come to love?
I first discovered Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould’s Women of Lancaster County series in 2011, and I’ve eagerly anticipated each new volume before the synopsis has even been released. Although the covers and titles of these novels might suggest a conventional romance novel, Mindy and Leslie have created a series that stands out from the plethora of Amish novels flooding out of the Christian publishing industry. Having read individual novels from both of the authors, I can see where they lend their separate talents in developing the voices of the strong women who tell their stories in this series.
Given the young age of The Amish Seamstress’s heroine, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to relate to Izzy. Although I’m only a few years older than her, I’ve been living in my own for years, and having attended university and got married sometimes makes it difficult to sympathise with heroines who are still living at home as if they were a teenager. Izzy might well still be living with her parents, but I realised early on that she wasn’t altogether happy with this set-up. Clearly an introvert like myself, Izzy struggles with the chaos and noise in her family home, craving some peace and quiet to sew or read. I sympathised with Izzy’s trouble deciding what career path to take, as her mother continually put pressure on her to finish her caregiving course and take on more jobs, even though all Izzy longed to do was sew. How many of us have been faced with the issue of knowing that we’re good at something, but not knowing if it’s what we want to do for the rest of our lives?
It’s been a while since I read the previous book in this series, but I could recall Zed and his film-making ambitions. Initially I was cautious about the relationship between him and Izzy, since most of their friendship had developed long before the book had started. If this were to be a conventional romance novel, it would be difficult to win me over when the relationship was already set in stone. To complicate matters further, Zed spends a lot of the book away at his college in Indiana. But never fear—there is plenty of conflict and intrigue in this novel to force you to keep turning the pages. This isn’t your typical romance novel, but Izzy’s story is certainly compelling.
I almost want to call The Amish Seamstress a coming-of-age novel, or maybe even New Adult. A lot of this book focuses on Izzy figuring out who she is, where she’s meant to be, what she’s called to do and whether or not she should pursue a relationship with Zed. The romance is more in the background, which will appeal to those who are more interested in Izzy’s character development and the historical aspect of the novel.
That said, Zed and Izzy’s relationship definitely felt authentic. Do you recall the pangs of unrequited love from your teenage years? Even if you didn’t date back then, or were lucky enough to marry the first guy who asked you out (as I did), I’m pretty sure every woman can recall a friendship that they wished would develop into something more, but the guy just didn’t seem interested. No matter how long ago that was, I’m certain that Izzy’s story will draw you back to that time and make you want to wrap her up in your arms and assure her that everything will work out in the end. I didn’t expect to become quite so invested in Izzy and Zed’s relationship, but it was hard not to care about something that hit so close to home.
If you’re not much of a romantic, the historical side of this story might still appeal to you. What I loved so much about the first two books in this series, The Amish Midwife and The Amish Nanny, was the way that they delved deep into the Anabaptist roots of the community. The history was fascinating, but never felt like a lecture or a textbook. There are also more recent mysteries dealt with in this series, relating to secret babies and long-lost relatives (sometimes it does feel a little bit like a soap opera!) but The Amish Seamstress focuses on the eighteenth century and Zed and Izzy’s links to the massacre of a local Indian tribe. It was fun to follow Izzy and Zed as they hunted down old documents and attempted to piece together their family histories. Even more compelling was the way that Izzy’s discoveries eventually impacted upon her understand of herself and the women around her who were all linked back to this family secret.
Although I think you could probably read this book as a standalone, since a lot of the backstory is summarised, I think new readers would get more enjoyment out of this series if they started at the beginning. Part of the reason why I enjoyed The Amish Seamstress so much is because it drew me back into a family and a community that had become so familiar to me. It’s strange to become so attached to a cast of characters, but I will be sad when I have to say goodbye to these Lancaster women. Hopefully this won’t be the last book in this series.
Fans of the Women of Lancaster County series definitely won’t be disappointed with this new instalment, and I hope that new readers are equally enchanted by Izzy’s story. At times, Izzy’s youth caused her actions to be a little frustrating, but her character growth made this book well worth the time spent reading.
Review title provided by Harvest House.