Sixteen year old Lydia Bontrager's family is part of a large Amish community. Her mother is Beth Ann Kauffman whose family runs a successful Amish bakery. Clipston has written a series of books on the Kauffmans, called the Kauffman Amish Bakery novels. Reckless Heart focuses on the younger generation and their struggles as part of the post modern world.
In the meantime, Lydia forms a friendship with an Englisher bu and his family who have just moved nearby. She meets Tristan Anderson and his younger sister, four year old Michaela, one day while walking home from the Amish school where she works part time. Tristan is handsome and very friendly, and Lydia finds herself attracted to this boy even though she knows it is forbidden for Amish girls to mix with the English. Besides, Lydia is interested in Joshua Glick, an Amish boy who also seems to like her too.
Ruthie is eventually diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and must go to Hershey for chemotherapy. Lydia's parents decide that Mamma will go with Ruthie. This means that Lydia, in addition to working at her grandmother's bakery, and being a teacher's assistant at the one room Amish school house, must also run the home and take care of her younger brother Titus and her sister, Irma. Lydia feels overwhelmed by the responsibility and wishes her life were normal again. She is completely unprepared emotionally to carry the burden of these responsibilities, so she becomes angry and rebels against her strict Amish culture.
"Tears filled her eyes. How was she ever going to cope with taking care of the family while her mother was gone? It didn't seem fair that this was all landing on her so quickly. Why was this happening to her?"Lydia continues to develop her friendship with Tristan, visiting his home and also inviting him for a tour of the Amish school. Despite Tristan's honourable intentions and his respectful treatment of Lydia, members of the Amish community and her own family warn her that her reputation will be ruined and that she is setting a poor example for the kinder. Lydia struggles to understand why it is so wrong to have a friend outside her Amish community. Her friendship with Tristan doesn't feel wrong and yet she is told that there will be serious repercussions if she continues to see him.
"As she hurried toward her house, she held back threatening tears. It didn't seem fair that Lydia had to walk away from a good friend like Tristan. Why couldn't her community accept that she and Tristan shared a perfectly pure and innocent friendship? As she moved toward her driveway, she couldn't stop the heartache that gripped her."Meanwhile Lydia almost loses Amanda's friendship when she accuses her friend of not understanding how difficult her situation is at home. And her relationship with Joshua also becomes strained as both struggle to determine nature of their friendship and what their future holds. Joshua also confronts Lydia about her behaviour both at the youth group and tries to understand her friendship with Tristan.
Lydia also struggles with her role in her family. She is sixteen years old and wants to do the things a young person would be doing at this age, but she is being asked to put those aside and be a mother to her family, while Ruthie is in the hospital. In part, this is due to Lydia's emotional immaturity. This leads to Lydia having a serious confrontation with her father that deeply wounds their relationship. She cannot understand why her father doesn't seem concerned about her growing feeling of isolation from the other Amish youth because she can no longer attend the youth gatherings. Amidst all this, Lydia is also struggling to discern whether she should work in her family's bakery or take on the teaching position next year at the local school.
All these personal struggles plus a crisis with Ruthie's health build to an emotional climax whose resolution is both rewarding but somewhat predictable. Readers will love the strong willed Lydia and identify with her desire to make her own choices and find her own path. This is a part of her coming of age and her struggle to forge her own identity within her Amish community. Her sudden decision about which career path to take seems a bit contrived, but it is believable. When she has doubts, Lydia turns to God to find out what his will for her will be. When she discerns what God's will is, she is able to move forward and be at peace with the path she has chosen.
Clipston expertly recreates the Amish world and its deep sense of community. The author also seamlessly explains Amish beliefs and culture through Lydia's interactions with Tristan and through her confrontations with her parents and family members. For example, Tristan can't understand why Lydia is suddenly ignoring him and when he confronts her she explains her community's views on Englishers. Lydia tells him that such friendships are considered inappropriate and could have serious consequences for herself and her family. When Tristan refuses to accept her explanation the two part ways until the conflict is unresolved later on when Tristan and his family step up to help the Bontrager's in a moment of crisis. It seems both Amish and English have something to learn from one another.
Clipston avoids the preachy tone that plagues many authors of Christian novels while managing to develop a high interest storyline with themes of coming of age, identity, responsibility and community. There is an extensive family tree at the front of the book so readers can place the characters and there is a list of High German words which are used throughout the novel. The back of the novel contains a small study guide for the reader. A nice cover completes the package.
I hope Amy Clipston writes more novels for young adults because this subgenre remains largely unexplored in young adult literature. Amish romances continue to be very popular but I'd also like to see some historical Christian romance written for teens.
Reckless Heart by Amy Clipston
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 2012