A book about an Amish girl! Wow, talk about something different in YA. When I first saw this book on Goodreads, I was immediately intrigued. I found the synopsis interesting and I must admit that before reading this book, I didn’t really know what an Amish was. I’ve read a lot about Jewish. Christians, Agnostics etc etc, but never Amish. So I guess that’s one big reason why I picked up this book and decided to read it, but what made me keep on reading was way more than just curiosity for a culture I wanted to know about.
Katie is our heroine, an Amish girl that was nearing her coming-of-age adventure called Rumspringa but before she could embark on this much-anticipated journey, something happens to the world outside that made Katie’s Rumspringa impossible. The entire Amish country was locked down by their elders and no one, not even the nearly dying man that found his way just outside of the Plain Folk’s fence was allowed to enter. Katie was not blind to the injustice of this situation that seemed to her to go against everything her faith was supposed to stand for. In the end, she decides to break the rules and take the man under her wing to nurse him back to health. Meanwhile, the rest of the world continues to fall into chaos and destruction because of a spreading virus that turns anyone who’s infected into a creature completely devoid of humanity. With the Amish isolated in their patch of hallowed ground and the ‘outside’ as good as non-existent, Katie fights against the close-minded denial of her own people and at the same time, struggles to find her self amidst the horrors of her current reality.
I made the mistake of reading this book on my tablet at two in the morning with all the lights off. It was a stupid thing to do because it scared the flip out of me. It’s actually very creepy in a way that I wasn’t able to anticipate. There are a lot of YA novels out there parading as “paranormal” or “horror” but doesn’t really deliver any significant scare factor. In fact most of the time, the paranormality in these books tend to end up being flimsy or over romanticized. But this one of Laura Bickle is different. It spooked me and triggered the darker nature of my imagination mainly because of the way Bickle tells the story. Katie’s voice as the narrator was calm and composed even when the narrative takes completely horrific and blood-curdling turns. It never seemed shouty or forceful or falsely tense, as is the case with some books. Somehow, this collectedness only served to underline and emphasize the frightful atmosphere of the plot.
Katie is also a very likable character. I was able to identify with her primarily because of her inquisitiveness, a quality she tries to quell due to its implications to her religion. She is torn between the things that people tell her and the things that she knows in her heart and mind to be true. She questions her orders while her people follow them blindly. She’s headstrong without being stupid and her quiet rebellion is a constant source of fascination. Her spirit is unbreakable despite the threat of danger and she holds on to her principles and her truths even if standing by them meant she would be shunned by her community.
Understandably, religion plays a big part in this story, but Laura Bickel’s skillful writing was able to render the subject in a way that coincides beautifully with the other elements of the novel. Another thing about this book is that it was very educational. I learned a lot about the Amish way of life and Bickel’s portrayal of their culture is truly compelling without being preachy. Be warned though, this book is quite heavy on vividly described scenes depicting gore and other gruesome scenarios, although I would insist to you that they were tastefully done and were not overbearing. However, if you are not a fan of blood and hacksaws, you probably should just move on to the next book.
4 out of 5 coconuts rating (I should probably have a rating guideline soon) because there were questions in this book that were not answered even as the novel closed. I’m certain they would be addressed by the next book but I was kind of disappointed that the author decided to leave some lose threads. The conclusion was wrapped up nicely considering, and I can already see where the next book would pick up the pace. I am very excited about the sequel of The Hallowed Ones, which already has a title, The Outside. This book is a genuinely scary read with romantic undertones and a dystopian plot that also includes a girl’s self-discovery and an insight into the Amish culture. If you are looking for something that’s both dark and enlightening, I highly recommend that you read The Hallowed Ones.