Welcome to Litfuse Publicity’s Blog Tour for Beside Still Waters
Marianna Sommer has always felt insecure, as though she can never measure up to the expectations of her parents and her community. She has always felt that she is one person destined to serve as a substitute for two who were lost. After all, she was born under the most tragic circumstances imaginable: As her family traveled home in their buggy, her father, Abe, drifted off to sleep. He was startled awake by the sound of a semi-truck crashing into the buggy. Marianna’s two older sisters were killed instantly, and her mother, Ruth, propelled into early labor. Each year, Marianna’s birthday has brought a combination of joy and recollections of profound sorrow.
At nineteen, Marianna is still in her rumschpringe years — the time when young Amish men and women decide whether to join the church, be baptized, and continue in the way of life they have always known, or leave their home and community to live in the modern world among the English. But she has absolutely no doubts about what she wants: She plans to remain with her Amish family and friends. Her older brother, Levi, who was just three years old on the night of the accident and Marianna’s birth, has left the family to live among the English, and Marianna has seen the heartbreak his behavior has caused her parents. She would never want to bring more sorrow or anguish to them.
Besides, since they were just eleven years old, Marianna and Aaron Zook have had eyes only for each other. Although Aaron has yet to take Marianna on a real date, he is building a home and acquiring livestock. It is evident to everyone in the community that it won’t be long before Aaron begins courting Marianna in earnest. Marianna has almost completed a quilt that she hopes to place on the bed in her new home.
But Abe’s brother, Ike, has returned to their Indiana community with tales about Montana. There is an Amish settlement there, just a couple of miles from the Canadian border, about which Ike raves. He has all but convinced Abe to take the family to live there. They could have a fresh start in the beautiful mountains, away from the sad memories that continue to plague Marianna’s mother, Ruth. More importantly, Abe could secure a job that would leave him more time to be at home with the family that includes Marianna’s younger siblings Charlie, Josiah, little Ellie, and the baby her mother is carrying.
Should Marianna be a dutiful, obedient daughter and move to Montana with her parents in order to help her mother? Or should she stay in Indiana with her aunt and allow Aaron to begin courting her while he finishes building the home he wants them to share? And if she goes to Montana, will Marianna really return to Indiana and the life she has known there? Or will she find herself settling into a new home from which she cannot bear to be torn away?
Beside Still Waters was inspired by a true story. One of author Tricia Goyer’s daughters had a friend whose Amish family was involved in a buggy accident that claimed the lives of two of their daughters. When someone suggested that Goyer write an Amish novel, she initially rejected the idea, but recalled that family’s tragedy and their subsequent move to Montana. After hearing more about their experiences, Beside Still Waters came to fruition.
Marianna is a compelling character, torn by her sense of obligation to her family and commitment to both her church and community, and her desire to be freed from the burden that she has shouldered literally from the night of her birth. She has seen the sorrow, particularly in her mother’s eyes, that hangs palpably over their lives and home. The two trees planted on their land in memory of Marilyn and Joanna are a daily reminder of their absence. Marianna looks forward to marrying Aaron and living in her own home, starting fresh in a new environment nestled within the safety of the life and people she has always known. But sometimes familiarity can be claustrophobic, too. The fact that everyone knows everyone else’s life history and daily business sometimes wears on Marianna, and reminds her that she must always be a good Amish daughter who lives up to the community’s expectations. After all, she feels that her life must be worthy of two additional ones that were cut short.
Beside Still Waters is a journey into asking the questions that we all ask: Where do I fit in in this world? . . . This is a story about finding inner peace and finding God even in challenging places. We can find peace even when we are taken out of comfortable circumstances.~ Author Tricia Goyer
Uncle Ike is something of an adventurer and his tempting tales of Montana bring friction to the Sommer household. Abe is determined that his family take advantage of the opportunity to start anew, and given the structure of the family, Ruth and the younger children have no choice but to comply. However, Marianna, being a grown woman, is allowed to make her own decision. She contemplates remaining in the family home by herself, because her father initially announces that they will be leaving for only one year. She figures that she will await their return while Aaron courts her and finishes building a home for the two of them. But Marianna’s plan is foiled. Eventually, she strikes a compromise: She will return to Indiana in six months, after the family has gotten settled into their Montana home, and her mother has given birth to the baby.
None of the Sommer family is prepared for what they find in Montana. Not only is the Amish community much less strict about adhering to their ordnung, they live and work alongside the English community in a manner the Sommers find shocking. Whereas in Indiana, the Amish were isolated and ventured into the English community only as necessary in order to shop, obtain assistance with transportation, etc., in Montana, Marianna is shocked to learn that the Amish and English not only work together on a daily basis, they gather regularly to eat together and socialize. Before long, she secures a job working in the local bakery with a kind and generous English woman named Annie.
Of course, there is a romantic complication for Marianna, as well. Back home, her brother, Levi, has broken up with his Amish sweetheart, Naomi, who stood ready to join him in the English world as soon as he gave the word. Naomi is devastated and seeks consolation from Aaron. Meanwhile, Marianna is intrigued by Ben, a handsome young musician who has come to Montana from Southern California. Ben has a mysterious past, but a strong faith. Against her will, Marianna realizes that she is drawn to Ben, with whom a relationship is, of course, an impossibility since he is not Amish and she believes that Aaron is waiting for her back at home.
Beside Still Waters is a refreshing look at the Amish way of life and the manner in which they conceptualize their faithful obedience to God. Through the eyes of the entire Sommer family, but primarily Marianna, Goyer gently challenges traditional Amish principles, especially with regard to the need to live in isolation, interacting with the modern world only sporadically and when absolutely required. The Montana community, for instance, has no Bishop, so the men take turns preaching. To Ruth — as well as their friends back in Indiana — that is scandalous. Even more shocking is Abe’s acceptance from Ben of an English Bible. Abe questions why it is that Amish insist upon reading German Bibles when that is obviously not the original language. Such questions have never occurred to any of them before their arrival in Montana.
And it is difficult to argue with kindness and faithfulness, as Goyer subtly illustrates through Marianna’s observations.
For as long as she could remember the leaders of the church had told her she was privileged to be Amish, and that the world outside the Amish was evil and corrupt. That was easy to believe when she spent most of her time within her community. She attended church with people she’d known her whole life. All her neighbors were Amish. She’d done most of her shopping at an Amish store. Rarely had she taken trips to English shopping centers. Only once — when she was eight — had they gone on vacation outside of Indiana, and she hadn’t dared to look too long at the English, let alone speak to them. But now, getting to know them, soemthing didn’t seem right. She’d grown up without questioning the Amish were the only ones with the real chance to get into heaven, but what about evryone else? They were good people. It was plain to see. Didn’t God see that, too?
The dramatic tension in Beside Still Waters also focuses upon Marianna’s dilemma: Can you ever really go home again? She has to answer the question herself — no one else can make her decision for her. In the meantime, living in Montana proves to be a valuable experience for her, providing many new experiences, new ways of looking at the world, new friends and opportunities. And peace. Amid the tall pines, fresh flowing rivers, pure mountain air, and the rest of God’s unspoiled natural beauty, Marianna finally learns what it is to know the peace that passes understanding.
Amish fiction is extremely popular in the Christian community, but Goyer’s unparalleled approach to the Sommer family’s struggles results in a unique and dynamic new look at their lifestyle and rationale for adhering to the strict tenets of their religion. The cast of supporting characters Goyer has created are as bright and colorful as the beautiful quilts the Amish women construct and sell at their annual auction. The theme of dealing with and overcoming grief in order to move on with one’s life and honor God by living to one’s fullest potential is a universal one made interesting in Goyer’s skilled hands through the complex emotional struggles Marianna endures.
My sole complaint about Beside Still Waters is its abrupt ending, lacking resolution. A sequel must be in the works. Happily, as with Goyer’s other works, Beside Still Waters is a character study of a group of people for whom faith is an integral part of their identity, but it is devoid of proselytizing or preachy attempts to convert the reader. Thus, Beside Still Waters is appropriate for and can be enjoyed by believers and nonbelievers alike.