I love reading Amish fiction, in case you haven't noticed by my last few reviews. The Wanderers by Paul Stutzman was no exception. It was, however, incredibly different than the last two I'd had the pleasure of reading. While the novels by Charlotte Hubbard could stand alone, The Wanderers can not say the same.
An Amish Love Story About Hope and Finding Home
Everything in God’s nature, Johnny observed, did what it was created to do. Everything, that is, except the human race. Johnny was born into an Amish family, into a long line of farmers and good businessmen. He is expected to follow the traditions of family and church as he grows to adulthood. But even as a boy, he questions whether he can be satisfied with this lifestyle. He wants “more” — more education, more travel, more opportunity.
His restlessness leads him down a dangerous road where too much partying and drinking result in heartbreaking consequences. He’s adrift, and no one seems to be able to help him find his direction.
Then he meets spunky Annie, who seems pure and lovely and devoted to her God. Her past, though, holds sin and heartbreak. She was a worm, she explains, but God has transformed her into a butterfly. Johnny falls hopelessly in love; and eventually he, too, finds the power of God to transform lives. Settling down on the family farm, he forgets about the questions and the restlessness, thinking that he is happy and at home, at last.
But in a few short hours, tragedy changes his life forever, and he is again wondering… and wandering on a very long journey.
Entwined with Johnny and Annie’s story is the allegory of two Monarch butterflies, worms who have been transformed into amazing creatures specially chosen to carry out the miracle of the fourth generation. They, too, must undertake a long journey before they finally find home.
The correlation between the Monarchs on the cover and the actual story line is introduced fairly early in the story. Surprisingly, though, it's brought back time and time again with such depth that it's actually a little sad at the end. Part of the story is even told from the point of view of the butterflies which was a fairly interesting twist.
Johnny is a wanderer. He doesn't know what he wants or where he wants to do it, he's just pretty certain that the Amish life isn't for him. At least not right away. He wants to be a cowboy and travel to the west with his friends. They have differing ideas, unfortunately, and he's soon left on his own fantasizing about traveling to places unknown. He's restless, and looking for pretty much anything to fill the void he thinks is in his heart.
Tragedy occurs when a large group of Amish teens get together at the quarry one night and the morning brings with it a fatality. It rocks poor Johnny down to his core. He's horrified and ashamed of himself and sad for what his new reputation must have done to his family. His family, however, never waivers in their love and affection for him, and quickly hatches a plan to hook him up with the new school teacher, Annie. But Annie is not without her own demons from the past. However, Johnny and his family quickly grow to love Annie and she returns in kind.
Johnny was kind of a complicated character for me. On the one hand, it was kind of irritating that here he was with a family that loved him and a profession that would set him up for life. On the other hand, he knew there was a world beyond his own that he'd never be able to see if he didn't do something considered drastic to the community he lived in. So I kind of had to admire him.
I absolutely adored Annie. She was so kind and at peace with herself. She never judged Johnny for his wrong doings and mistakes. And I love her explanation to him about the Caterpillars and the Monarch butterflies. She was an absolutely beautiful spirit and a wonderful addition to the story.
I loved that Johnny's family had such unconditional love for him. They accepted him and all of his faults and cared deeply about him. He was mischievous and a trouble maker but they understood him. Annie understood him. And they knew what he needed when he didn't even know himself.
The journey that he takes in this story is incredible. All of the people that he meets and their own stories that they tell to him definitely help to shape the person I feel he will ultimately become.
This book is not without it's downfalls.
I made the mistake of bringing it to read while I waited for my girls to be done with their Girl Scout meeting and ended up trying to make sure I didn't look like a big blubbering mess of ridiculousness. Absolutely heartbreaking in parts. Even in some places I wouldn't have even expected.
There are a lot of ups and downs and emotional bits all rolled in to The Wanderers. Luckily it is just the first in its series because it ended with a complete nail-biting cliffhanger and I NEED to know what happens next. I can only hope I won't have to wait too long to find out.
If you're a fan of Amish fiction, I'd recommend this story to you. If you like coming of age stories of any type, I'd recommend this for you. It's long, and a bit slow in some parts, but every bit of every chapter serves a purpose and you really shouldn't miss any of it. Like I said, I can't wait for the second installment.