What an interesting, unique start to a brand-new series! Paradise Valley, an Amish Historical Fiction novel written by Dale Cramer and published in 2011 by Bethany House*, is based on actual events from Amish history. In fact, Mr. Cramer’s great-grandparents were leading members of the real Mexican colony called Paradise Valley, which was established in the 1920s. The writing style of this book is warm and fairly light, and allows you to watch the story unfold from the different perspectives of several characters. Opening with conflict between an Amish community and the state law, this story pulls you into the life-changing decision made by one man attempting to protect his family.
A significant reason in explaining what makes Paradise Valley such a memorable read is the large host of remarkable and lovable characters contained within pages of the book. Although the story is spotlighting an entire family, a strong and caring young girl named Rachel Bender is our main heroine. Other characters almost as prominent include her loving, persuasive sister Emma, the “too-smart-for-her-own-good” sister Miriam, and their honorable, faithful ‘Dat’, Caleb. The entire Bender family, from Dat and Mamm down to the youngest daughter, grow stronger, closer to each other, and closer to God as the story unfolds. For you, the reader, the vivid portrayal of the characters brings each one to life as a friend who will not soon be forgotten.
In the simple Amish community of Salt Creek Township, Ohio, life is changed in an instant when the government forces the Plain people to abide by a law completely opposing their way of life, religion, and beliefs. This inevitably forces Caleb Bender to make a decision that will affect his family and community forever. Suddenly huge, challenging questions are formed for everyone involved… How can Rachel leave the newly-found love of her life? What will Emma do about her secret sin? Will Miriam, soon to be considered an old-maid, ever have a family of her own? To preserve their Amish faith, each member of the family is forced to endure danger and hardship as they build a new life for themselves far from everything familiar.
Paradise Valley interprets several fundamental themes into the storyline, the most obvious being the importance of family, faith, and love. The Bender family is truly amazing in their strength as a family, proving that with God’s help, a united family can accomplish the near impossible. Interestingly left as an undecided topic, you are made to wonder which is the more honorable decision to make when the lives of those you love are threatened – is the Amish way of non-violence best in each and every scenario? Also portrayed in this story is the importance of patience and honesty, and the necessity of discovering for yourself who you were meant to be, and what you were meant to accomplish with your life. Together, these messages make for wholesome reading.
Although labeled as an Amish novel, this book in it’s uniqueness is not a typical Plain story. It is a highly enjoyable story, and even readers who aren’t usually fans of Amish stories will likely be captivated by Paradise Valley. One strong negative aspect present in this book, however, is that while honesty is looked on as so important in the family and community, it is not carried out by Emma when she keeps her immoral actions a secret from everyone but two sisters. Also, while it seems to be a typical Amish way, Rachel seems to be extremely young when she first falls in love. In general, however, Paradise Valley allows you to travel back in history and meet a family with amazing strength, enjoy a sweet love story, and look forward with anticipation to the next book in the series.
***Note: I received this book free of charge for review purposes, courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications. I would like to say thank you very much for sending it to me.