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Book Review: The Forbidden by Beverly Lewis

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In The Forbidden, Book 2 of The Courtship of Nellie Fisher series, author Beverly Lewis picks up the story of Nellie Mae Fisher and Caleb Yoder a little over six months from the dreadful day Nellie’s sister Suzy drowned.

During the month and a half of the winter of 1967 that the story encompasses, we follow Caleb and Nellie as they seek to make sense of Caleb’s father’s demand that they part company. We also watch as Nellie’s older sister Rhoda edges ever closer to breaking with her Amish family, enter into Roseanne’s dismay as Kate, the birth mother of her adopted twins, begins to act more and more possessive of them, and get a glimpse into how Suzy’s non-Amish friends are coping with her death. Overshadowing all these things is the seemingly unavoidable church split that threatens to tear Honeybrook apart.

As is typical of Beverly Lewis’s books, her characters drive the action. Despite scenes of Amish life as idyllic as illustrations in an old-fashioned book, there’s a lot going on under the surface. Nellie is a talented, confident, and determined young woman and entrepreneur who knows her mind. However, she’s also every bit an Amishwoman who respects tradition and realizes, given how important Caleb’s inheritance is to him, that the fate of their love may lie with Caleb’s intractable father. Caleb is determined too, as well as obedient, respectful, red-blooded and smitten – a combination that leads to more than one complication.

Lewis plumbs some psychologically sophisticated depths through secondary characters as well. We get an understanding through Rhoda of how the pressures of ‘fancy’ society tug at these plain young people. Through Nellie’s barren friend Roseanne we experience the overwhelming instincts and emotions of motherhood. Susannah Lapp shows herself to be a diva of manipulation. And Caleb’s father is portrayed as Mr. Control.

Lewis’s writing is, as always, simple and accessible. She sprinkles her narrative with enough Amish-isms to give us the sense we’re hearing her characters speak in their Amish dialect. Within many a chapter she goes from character to character, moving the story ahead by shifting the action from place to place. This gives a sense of things happening simultaneously and helps the story build.

Lewis uses the impending split between the Old Order, New Order and Beachy Amish (an actual event that happened amongst the Pennsylvania Amish in the 1960s) to explore how disagreements in belief can impact relationships. Parents, children, lovers and friends are all impacted. Lewis delves into some of those contentious beliefs and shows the positive difference a relationship with Jesus Christ, personal prayer and reading the Bible for oneself can make.

All in all, this is another satisfying Beverly Lewis read. Not to worry if you haven’t read The Parting – the first book in the series. Lewis begins The Forbidden with a prologue that brings readers up-to-date with the story so far. She ends by setting the stage for more complications and it’s impossible to predict how the series will end. The final book in The Courtship of Nellie Fisher is scheduled to be released in September, 2008.

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