Jolina Petersheim’s debut novel, The Outcast, truly transcends genre, telling a story of betrayal, legalism and jealousy, but, more importantly, of hope, healing and forgiveness. The layered plot & multi-faceted characters combined with a poetic, lyrical writing style give this novel an unexpected edgy and realistic quality that is not often found in novels of this setting. Set in an Old Order Mennonite community, this story touches on themes of legalistic religion versus tolerant forgiveness, strained family relationships and even modern-day medicine versus holistic approaches. As the mother of an illegitimate child, Rachel Stoltzfus is at the scrutiny of the people in her community. Her decision to leave Eli’s father nameless ensures that the bigotry lands solely on her shoulders, and the lies and betrayal are left to fester underneath the surface. When her son needs life-saving medical help, the circumstances of his birth come to a head with nearly soul-shattering results. Rachel’s personal narration is uniquely mirrored by the narration of Amos King, the deceased bishop of her community. His otherworldly perspective adds an unexpected layer to the story and provided the necessary background of past events, including what he feels was his hand in helping his son Tobias cover up his sin as well as his hand in the strained relationship between his son Judas and his older children. Petersheim’s descriptions were beautiful, epitomizing the idea of showing not telling. As I was reading, I felt what these characters were feeling. My heart was broken and put together again by the situations and people in this story of moving past betrayals to save a child’s life. There was a wonderful cast of characters that each had a compelling backstory of their own, including prickly Ida Mae, holistic healer Norman Troyer, reputation-obsessed Tobias, steadfast Judah and Rachel’s timid, secret-keeping twin, Leah – they were all truly wonderful. Often how they appeared on the outside was just a faÃ§ade to cover what was underneath. By the story’s end, I was convicted of my preconceived notions of right
This is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter. I have to say to I was spell bound from the beginning to the end. This is a story about love and forgiveness, letting go of the past and moving forward in life. This is the story of Rachel Stoltzfus. She is raised in an Old Order Mennonite community. She is fine with her life the way it is until she starts showing. She is shunned when she won’t confess who the father is. She wants to protect those that she loves. When Rachel’s baby’s life is at risk though decisions must be made. Will everyone be able to get past the hurt and move forward? This is a must read book. 5 stars!!
Extremely well written novel. I'm not sure why I find writing a review for the books that I love to be so difficult. Maybe it's because I'm hoping to do the book justice and know my writing abilities are lacking. The Outcast is one of the best Amish fiction novels that I've ever read, and believe me, I've read a lot. It's also one of the best books I've read this year (85 year to date). This may be the author's debut novel but you'd never know it by the way it's written. Mark my words, we are going to see a lot more by Jolina Petersheim and it's going to be good! I received The Outcast from bookfun.org in exchange for an honest review.
In her debut novel, The Outcast, Jolina Petersheim’s character Rachel cries out to God, “I know I have already asked your forgiveness for my adultery, but I need to know that you really forgive. That you are not punishing my child for the sins I have committed.” At three hundred and seventy-three pages, this paperback book is touted as a modern retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter from the perspective of current-day Amish / Mennonite living. With no profanity but situations about adultery that produces a child out of wedlock, the story is targeted toward mature Christian young adult or female readers. This reader wishes all pronouns related to Deity were capitalized for reverence. Nineteen year old independent Rachel becomes pregnant in the Mennonite Copper Creek community in Tennessee but adamantly refuses to reveal the father’s identity as she is not married. Her twin sister, Leah, becomes pregnant months later by her husband, the arrogant, prideful Tobias who wedded her to take care of his four children when their mother died five years ago. Now that his father, Amos, has recently passed away, Tobias has been chosen as bishop in the community and, to Leah’s dismay, casts Rachel out due to her premarital pregnancy. Tobias’s young brother, Judah, has always loved Rachel and has told her but due to the recent birth of her son, he questions her decisions and responsibilities when she becomes more and more Englisch. Upon Rachel’s excommunication, she befriends Ida Mae, a rough-talking, calloused woman with her own heart-breaking past who gives her a job with room and board at her supposedly Amish country store to make ends meet. Angered by his brother’s insistence that Rachel leave their sect, Judah follows Rachel, only to be rejected by her love so he leaves the state to search for solace. It is only when Rachel’s infant child has life-threatening medical issues that several lives intersect to uncover families’ hidden truths that endanger the calm, serene life on a rural Mennonite farm and beyond. Separated by bold headings, the tome is uniquely written from the viewpoints of Rachel and the deceased Amos who has the ability to witness his sons’ choices, errors and thoughts as each person deals with, confesses, accepts and forgives his or her own past sins. Both versions overlap as the reader is caught up in the secrets, lies and broken relationships that need to be told, forgiven and mended. Although predicable from the start, Petersheim writes emotionally and lovingly about her characters’ lives, lapses and longings as she blends old-fashioned, at times legalistic upbringings with current day society’s morals by learning to accept God’s unconditional love and forgiveness of one’s past mistakes.
The Outcast is an odd book. It was my first foray into Amish fiction & I couldn't put the book down, but it was odd reading from a dead man's perspective
Jolina Petersheim has authored a brilliant debut novel portraying a pregnant, unmarried, Old Order Mennonite girl, and the resultant incriminations and repercussions her condition has elicited from her family and community members. She has been rejected and forsaken for committing adultery, but she refuses to divulge the identification of the man who fathered her unborn child. Sheltered and fostered by a former Mennonite woman, she finds peace and a safe haven. Heartrending events wreak havoc as additional adversities complicate her life. Her faith is shattered and hope is elusive as adversity and anguish besiege her. The Outcast is written with expertise, proficiency, perception and sensitivity. Drawing from her Mennonite heritage the author has firsthand experience and understanding of her subject matter. Written with sophistication, conviction and discernment, the success of this novel is undeniable. The authenticity of the events throughout this narrative confirm that research and experience are beyond question. Elements of doubting God are replaced with forgiveness, faith, hope and assurance. I highly recommend this eloquently written book of Amish fiction and look forward to many more books by this ingenious new author. Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Book Fun through the For Readers Only program, in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
Rachel Stoltzfus has led a contented life among her Old Order Mennonite community. But when she becomes pregnant and refuses to reveal the identity of the father, the sect shuns her, and the bishop, who is Rachel’s brother-in-law and who has secrets of his own, forces her to leave. VERDICT: Petersheim makes an outstanding debut with this fresh and inspirational retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Well-drawn characters and good, old-fashioned storytelling combine in an excellent choice for Nancy Mehl’s readers. Starred review
A must-read that will draw you into a secretive world of sin and senselessness and leave you with the hope of one set free