Sometimes people who ask me what kinds of novels I have edited look confused—some almost stunned—when I include books about the Amish. “The Amish write novels?” they say.
I’ve read that at least one Amish woman writes novels with the permission of her bishop, but as I understand it, for the most part novels about the Amish, which are wildly popular, are written by authors who research those communities through travel, interviews, and the assistance of Amish friends they have made along the way. (“I checked with my Amish friend, and she explained this is the way most Amish families manage that particular dilemma.”)
Much of the general public is aware that Amish communities exist, but their perceptions are limited and idealized through the media, movies (like The Witness), picturesque encounters with buggies on a road near an Amish community, or vacationing in places like Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. It is also easy for we Englishers to lump Amish, Mennonite, and similar communities together as “those people.”
That was me too. I still am no expert just because I have edited a few novels about the Amish, but I have learned much I did not know, particularly from Christian novelists Vannetta Chapman, Amy Clipston, and Kathleen Fuller.
Most of the novels about the Amish are, I believe, published by Christian companies, and most are primarily romances (though I have edited an Amish mystery series too). The novels address not only the most common human emotions and stages of development and how they can play out in the Amish life, but all-too-human drama common in the lives of everyone—men and women alike.
But why do I think novels about the Amish are so popular?
· The stories are infused with faith, commitment, and family—yet include realistic doubts, fears, and tragedy. Guilt, secrets, jealousy, crises of faith, miscarriage, teen pregnancy, abuse, longing . . . it's all there.
· Speaking of longing, the romances are generally sweet and innocent—but not devoid of hormones. Enough said.
· The simple and peaceful ways of the Amish come through—even or perhaps especially when there is trouble in their midst. Readers get a welcome and thought-provoking presentation of busy yet not hurried, sheltered yet not exempt lives.
All of the above make it possible for us to relate to these stories even if we do not live "apart" as the Amish do. I have not fully nor in detail explained these books, their authors, or the Amish, but I do have an answer for those who are surprised that novels about the Amish not only exist but are bestsellers:
“Most of the novels are written by non-Amish authors who have come to know, love, and highly respect the Amish and their way of life. You should try one!”