Aaron Ebersol was 15 years old when he left his family and the Amish settlement in Pennsylvania where he grew up in order to seek a fresh start in Missouri. He had hung out with a rebellious group in his teens, sneaking out of the house at night to drink, smoke, and carouse in some convenient barn in the neighbourhood. One night, he suggested they have a bonfire but it had been a dry season and nearby leaves caught fire and suddenly the bishop’s barn caught fire was consumed. Luckily none of the animals were lost and no-one was injured. But Aaron had created embarrassment and hardship for his family and so he left with some friends. He had learned to work with wood at his father’s side and had a real gift for it, so soon found his way in construction. Eventually, he and a friend began their own business, Paradise Builders.
Linda Zook was just a child when a semi carrying new cars lost control on the ice and crashed into her family’s buggy. She was thrown clear but both her parents were killed. It took several operations and months of physio to learn to walk again, but now there was only a trace of a limp, and that only when she was at home with her stern, bitter onkel Reuben who, with her aenti Verna, raised her after her parents died. Now, she works part-time at the Lancaster Grand Hotel and part-time at the Heart of Paradise Bed & Breakfast to help out Hannah (a former Amish lady who has left the community to marry an Englisher named Trey Peterson) who has to take it easy as she’s expecting a boppli.
Suddenly, Aaron and Linda are thrown together as he returns to care for his mamm who has suffered a severe stroke and is asking for him. Aaron is surprised to find that most of the Amish community is very glad to see him, that he was long ago forgiven for his missteps, but the letters he wrote weekly at first, then monthly for the past seventeen years were apparently never received, and his brother Solomon has hardened his heart toward him for all the hurt Aaron caused his parents when he left. Aaron sees ways he can help his parents, earn the respect of his family, and possibly return to the community but Solomon doesn’t want him there, wishes he had never returned. Aaron also sees a beauty in Linda in both her face and her spirit. He values their developing friendship and her advice, but can’t figure out why she becomes a different person in the presence of her onkel, completely insecure and nervous. Very soon, Aaron has made many connections with his nephew Manny, his nieces, Linda, old friends and new, but Solomon and his wife Becky are totally entrenched in freezing him out.
This is very much a prodigal son story with a bit of romance and redemption on the side. It is a glimpse into a fictitious Amish community where faith and prayer allow flawed characters to receive forgiveness and restoration. Clipston’s characters are varied and the feeling of community comes across the pages in a very real way. The use of authentic Amish language adds to the flavour of the story. In context, they are easily understood, but just in case you’re stumped, there’s a glossary at the beginning of the book along with a family tree of the main families you meet in this community. The story is a page-turner as you puzzle over the hidden secrets that are plaguing some of the characters, and wonder where the romance can go between an Englisher and an Amish maedel. * * * *
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