From Publishers Weekly
In an engaging personal memoir, Mackall, an Ohio-based writer and professor of English, describes the close-knit relationship he has cultivated over more than a decade with a neighboring Amish family. This is neither an exposé nor an outsider's fanciful romanticization of the Amish. By focusing on the loves and losses of one large Amish clan, Mackall breathes life into a complex group often idealized or caricatured. He refers, for example, not to "the Amish" writ large, but instead to "the Swartzentruber Amish I know," describing in some detail the tremendous differences between the Swartzentrubers, by far the most traditional sect, and the Old Order, New Order, Beachy and other Amish groups. The Swartzentrubers not only eschew electricity but also padded or upholstered chairs, souped-up buggies, indoor plumbing, the tradition of rumspringa (a running-around period for some Amish teens) and—perhaps most important for this narrative—contact with "the English." Mackall's is the first book to venture behind-the-scenes of this most conservative Amish group. At times Mackall is critical of the Swartzentruber way of life (such as when an eight-year-old girl dies in a buggy accident because the sect rejects safety measures for buggies), but it is a deeply respectful account that never veers toward sensationalism. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* As this wonderful and enlightening book makes clear, the Amish are hardly a monolithic group. Actually, there are many different orders of Amish. The decidedly non-Amish Mackall has lived among the Swartzentruber Amish of Ashland County, Ohio, for more than 16 years. The Swartzentruber are considered the most conservative Amish, eschewing gas, electricity, and indoor plumbing. Even their ubiquitous buggies are driven without lights. Over the years, Mackall developed a friendship with the Shetler family, and Plain Secrets is an affectionate portrait of a family as well as a way of life. Some stereotype and romanticize the Amish, saying they represent an ideal, preindustrial American community. Others sensationalize them as backward religious fanatics. Mackall knows the Shetlers as persons, not cardboard figures, and he has readers get to know them as persons, too. His is hardly black-and-white portraiture. The Amish he writes about are as complex and flawed as any non-Amish. Although he admires their connection to the land and devotion to family, he is conflicted about the future of Amish girls, who live under a resolutely patriarchal household regime, in particular. This is a loving portrait, warts and all, of an often-misunderstood people. Sawyers, June