August 2015, Barbour Publishing, 320 pages, Ebook, Review copy
Summary from Barbour Publishing
The collapse of a schoolhouse puts pressure on Amish families and their long-held educational values. Ella Hilty anticipates marrying Gideon Wittner and becoming a mother to his children. In a whirling clash of values, Ella seeks the solid ground that seems to have slipped away. Margaret Simpson, an English schoolteacher, wonders if she is losing her last chance at love. As the local authorities draw lines in the sand, Margaret puts romance at risk one final time. All eyes turn to Ella to make a sacrifice and accept a challenge that can bring unity to the Amish and understanding to the English.
I'm still enamoured with Amish fiction, and was intrigued when I realised that this story dealt with an issue in American history which brought Americans in conflict with the Amish. The Amish want to avoid conflict, but despite the slowly becoming spunkier teacher Margaret and Ella's determination to help her community's chidren get the education they deserve, the English in authority are stubborn, narrowminded so and sos. I liked how Amish values are explored and how being Amish affects a child's entire day, just as being a practising Muslim/Christian/Jew does, so of course education is an issue.
I was rooting for Margaret despite the fact that her new found spunk threatened her potential fiancee, and Ella who faces a heart-wrenching decision near the end of the book. I smiled with delight at little Gertie's innocence, how she doesn't realise that she is a highly gifted young (6 year old, I think) artist in a community who need to be shown that art can be woven into Amish life and isn't all about encouraging idol worship, and I loathed all of those pompous so and sos who couldn't see and didn't care for how important the Amish having their own school was. I was impressed at the lengths the Amish teen David went to further his education despite the fact it went against his step-father's wishes, and was highly creeped out by the mysterious goings thefts Lindy had to endure. Don't worry, the culprit is found by the end.
Beautiful and Best reinforces my view gained through fiction that the Amish really do eat pie and cookies every day, and their community spirit is strong in the face of danger to their values. I'm glad that the law changed for them and others in the US – and here in Europe too, since I thought that the Amish had always taught their own children. The concept of them going to English school never crossed my mind. The end manages to be a happy one thanks to a series of unexpected events. Apparently this is 3rd in a series of books, but I didn't feel like I was at a disadvantage for this being the first book which I'd read.
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