Welcome to Litfuse Publicity’s Blog Tour for Along Wooded Paths
Marianna Sommer reluctantly left her Indiana home to move to Montana with her family. She grew up believing that one day she would marry Aaron Zook, who has been building a home in anticipation of proposing to Marianna. But her parents’ grief over the loss of her two older sisters in a tragic accident is unrelenting and compounding their sorrow is the fact that their oldest son, Levi, has left their Amish community to live among the Englisch. Marianna did not feel that she could remain in Indiana without her family, but she had no idea what her life in Montana would be like.
Marianna has made dear friends, some Amish and, surprisingly, some Englisch. Unlike in Indiana, the two groups live and work together. A few Amish have even begun attending a Monday evening prayer group. Marianna enjoys working in the local bakery/restaurant and the independence that having a job has given her.
Ben, a former professional singer-songwriter, left the music business and his girlfriend, Carrie, behind when he moved to Montana in search of a simpler, purer way of life. His feelings for Marianna have continued to grow stronger, much to his surprise, but he knows that if Marianna were to return his feelings, she would be forced to leave her family in order to join him in the Englisch world. Ben struggles with whether or not he could ever be responsible for alienating her from her family, as well as doubts about whether she could ever be truly happy with him. Meanwhile, with the encouragement of Marianna’s mother, has decided to come to Montana to tell Marianna about his true feelings and convince her to return with him to Indiana.
Marianna has not yet been baptized into membership in the church, but until she arrived in Montana and found herself increasingly drawn to Ben, she has never questioned her commitment to her family and the only way of life she has ever known. But now, in her rumspringa, she finds herself surprisingly conflicted, with feelings for two very different men.
Along Wooded Paths continues the story of Marianna Sommer and her family begun in Beside Still Waters. As the first book ended, Marianna started for Indiana, but changed her mind and returned to Montana, ostensibly to help her pregnant mother care for her younger brothers and sisters and assist when the new baby arrived. In truth, Marianna could not leave Ben behind forever.
Prolific author Tricia Goyer devotes the second installment in her Big Sky series to an exploration of the romantic feelings Marianna has for both Ben and Aaron, and the manner in which her attraction to Ben causes Marianna to reevaluate the assumptions upon which her life has thus far been based. Marianna has experienced a different way of living since arriving in Montana. Not only do the Amish and Englisch interact with each other more extensively and in vastly disparate ways than in Indiana. Some of the Amish have abandoned their traditional outlook on certain aspects of daily life and worship. Even Marianna’s father has taken to reading an English Bible and Marianna wonders if he will dare to read from it when he leads worship and preaches when it is her family’s turn to host the Sunday service in their home. Living in such rustic, but beautiful surroundings, has caused Marianna to view her relationship with her creator in new ways. And although Amish women dress plainly and wear no makeup in order to keep their priorities in order, she cannot help enjoying the attention that Ben lavishes upon her, especially when he tells her that she is beautiful.
Goyer deftly describes the inner turmoil that both Marianna and Ben experience. Both of them are well-meaning, caring individuals who are incapable of controlling their mutual attraction. Although Marianna is free to explore and experience the world, consistent with Amish tradition, during her rumspringa, she has never even tried dressing like the Englisch, much less engage in any wilder conduct. Her feelings surprise and bewilder her, and she tries to imagine what it must be like for Levi, living so far away and estranged from the family. Ben left behind all the trappings of being a successful performer in search of inner peace and is equally befuddled by his attraction to a plain woman. Particularly enlightening is Ben’s reaction when Carrie makes a surprise appearance while Ben is at her father’s recording studio playing the song he wrote about Marianna. The contrast between the two women and their outlooks on the world could not be more distinct.
All the while, Aaron is staying with Marianna’s family while he recovers from injuries he sustains in an accident as soon as he arrives in Montana. He has brought with him a dozen letters that he wrote to Marianna from Indiana but could never bring himself to mail. Aaron engaged in a brief flirtation with Naomi, Levi’s former betrothed, following Marianna’s departure from Indiana and Levi’s abandonment of the Amish life. But his heart has always belonged to Marianna. As he constructed the house, he dreamed of sharing it with Marianna, even including design details that he believed would please her. As he watches Marianna interact with and talk about Ben, Aaron waits for the moment when he can declare his intentions, wondering whether he will lose Marianna to Ben and the world.
Through it all, Marianna’s faith is at the forefront of her thoughts as she struggles to discern what form her future will take. She is a kind, compassionate, and dutiful young woman faced with a seemingly impossible choice. Either option — a life with Ben or Aaron — will require that she be willing to give up much. If she marries Aaron, she will return to the home and way of life she has always known in Indiana, secure in the love and support of her family. There is no way that she can meld a life with Ben and her way of life. She must decide if her love for Ben is worth turning her back on everything and everyone she has ever known up to this point in her life, including her family.
In Goyer’s capable hands, Marianna’s dilemma is intriguing, empathetic, and inspires readers to examine their own life choices, as well as the manner in which their faith informs their decisions. Luckily for devotees of Amish fiction and the endearing Sommers family, the third installment in the series, Beyond Hopes Valley is already in the works.