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To the Plain people in his Fold, the Deacon stands as an example of the Amish ideal—he works hard, cares for his flock, and listens closely to the God with whom he has always communed. Only Joshua, the Deacon's 11-year-old son, knows the truth. Only he sees the hungry slurps his father takes from jars of pungent "communion wine," only he witnesses the rage that ensues, only he receives the Deacon's vicious beatings. No one else knows—not his mother, not his four sisters, not any of their Plain neighbors. The family's lives look perfect from the outside. It's not until a scuffle between Joshua and his father turns deadly that the truth begins to leak out.
Unable to stay in Pennsylvania, Joshua makes a run for it. He's heard about a distant California city, Monte Rey, where the sun always shines. Perpetual summer sounds infinitely better than whatever awaits him at home. The naive boy, who's never lived among the "English" before, stumbles into every kind of danger along his decade-long journey to the West. Having learned some excruciating lessons about life and love, an adult Joshua yearns for one thing: home. He longs to return to the Fold, but how can one so tainted go back? Especially when doing so means confronting the abusive father who never wanted him in the first place.
Miriam's life changes forever on the night of the fire. Not only is Joshua, her oldest child, missing—presumed dead—but her strong, stalwart husband is burned so badly he can barely move. So severe are his wounds that Miriam knows the Deacon will never be the same again. It will be up to her to tend to his injuries, care for the children, run the farm, and keep hope alive despite the unbearable strain. Despite the years that pass, Miriam refuses to believe Joshua is dead, even when everyone begs her to let go. Exhausted and worried about her crumbling marriage, that hope is the only thing to which she can cling.
While tension mounts for both Joshua and Miriam, their reunion grows ever closer. But will it be the sweet homecoming of which Joshua dreams? Or will his family Shun him as the sinner he's become?
When I think of the Amish people, sweet, gentle adjectives come to mind. Abusive and alcoholic not being two of them. Since Plain folks are as human as the rest of us, it stands to reason that even the most peaceful of communities has its dark secrets. E.B. Moore, a sculptor and author with Amish roots, would probably know. Loosely based on her grandfather's early life, Moore's second novel, Stones in the Road, addresses some of these issues. Joshua, whose tumultuous relationship with his father makes him instantly sympathetic, is a compelling narrator. His mother's plight makes her equally so. Because of this, the reader can't help but root for their reunion. Still, it's a slow journey, one that gets dull—and downright weird—in some places. Although Joshua and Miriam's various adventures kept me interested enough, I wasn't racing through the pages to see what happened next. The story is ultimately hopeful, but it's also almost overwhelmingly depressing. I did, however, appreciate its important message of making your own peace, even when (especially when?) others cause you unbearable pain. Still, I found Stones in the Road to be only a so-so read for me.
(Readalikes: Reminds me a little of Heart's Journey by Kristen McKendry)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of Stones in the Road from the generous folks at Penguin Random House. Thank you!