Forgiven is an inspirational romance set among the Amish – a popular trend for inspirationals lately. It’s also the third book of the Sisters of the Heart series, and if I had realized that, I might not have bought it because I so often get lost in series. At times, it was hard to keep the characters straight, especially as so many of the characters are related. Once I figured out all the families and connections, I zipped right through the book, but now and then, I still had to flip back to keep track of the people. <a href="http://www.likesbooks.com/banmanpro/a.aspx?ZoneID=4&Task=Click&Mode=HTML&SiteID=1&PageID=33387 ” target=”_blank”> <img src="http://www.likesbooks.com/banmanpro/a.aspx?ZoneID=4&Task=Get&Mode=HTML&SiteID=1&PageID=33387 ” width=”150″ height=”200″ border=”0″ alt=””>
Amish Winnie Lundy is injured when her brother Jonathan’s barn goes up in flames one night. Because the hospital is so far away, she and her family must rely on Samuel Miller, once a part of their community but now an “Englisher” because he never joined the church, preferring instead to become a college professor. Sam and the outspoken Winnie knew each other in the past, and they find themselves drawn to each other.
Meanwhile, Jonathan faces a serious problem. Fire investigators determine that a cigarette started the fire. Jonathan believes that someone Amish must have dropped the cigarette – even if some are shocked by the idea. The bishop thinks Jonathan must get past his anger and forgive the person who destroyed his barn. While Jonathan can accept that it was an accident, he cannot get over his anger that the culprit did not have the decency to admit to the mistake. Even worse, he thinks the culprit might be Caleb, Sam’s younger brother.
As Winnie recuperates in the hospital, she and Sam see more and more of each other, and Sam grows to appreciate his Amish brother, Eli, more. Even after Winnie returns to her community, he finds himself visiting more often. He realizes that much as he loves many of the modern conveniences, such as cell phones, since leaving this community, he has missed out on so much. Still, is there hope for a relationship between an outsider like him and Winnie?
Although this is Winnie and Sam’s story, the other plot threads are strong. Jonathan, who was the hero of the second book, tries to find out who burned down his barn, while the person responsible for the fire copes with his guilt. Katie, his wife, still sometimes copes with Jonathan’s knowledge of her past misdeeds during her “rumspringa” (running around time). Anna, the Englisher heroine of the first novel, is planning her wedding, and her delayed nuptials provide a contrast to the story of Winnie and Sam because Anna is willing to give up on the modern world, and Sam has to decide if he can give up the modern world to return home. Sam and his brother Eli must decide how to deal with Caleb, while Caleb has a crisis of his own. While the threads were interesting, it also meant that the love story between Winnie and Sam sometimes got shortchanged. Still, Winnie and Sam are likable. Winnie is blunt and the sort of woman who gets frustrated when she has to stay off her feet. Even with a broken foot, she finds ways to help her friends and relatives out. Sam is a popular college professor who likes helping “English” kids learn what to do with their lives. Still, when he visits home again, he has to admit how empty his life seems because he is forced to straddle both worlds.
I’ll admit that the last time I read a novel about the Amish, it was Nancy Drew #33, The Witch Tree Symbol. In this book, I was able to figure out most of the Amish terms because they’re used in context. At times, though, the dialect distracted me. This is one of those stories where an Amish character will say something like “This place smells like the inside of a shanshtah” and another will say “I wish it was only the chimney smell that concerned me.” It reminds me of those Harlequin Presents novels where the foreign alpha hero is always mixing foreign words into his English dialogue. Also, is there a need for Winnie to say “I hear what you are sayin'”? Later, one of the men says “saying” instead, so why not use one and stick to it? Yet despite that, the dialect was usually easy for me to handle, with only a few bumps as I tried to figure out an Amish word now and then, and the overall style of the novel flowed well.
The glimpse into the Amish world, including the conflicts with the “English” world, was fascinating. Winnie’s interactions with the modern world put a lot of things into context. While she’s not confused by things like cell phones, she’s shocked by all the women on TV who are worried about their weight. Still, I don’t know how realistic this book is. When Winnie visits Sam at his college, we’re told that, “Everywhere she looked, Winnie spotted something new and interesting. Each building they passed was constructed of dark red brick…” Yet Winnie works in an antique store and has visited the Amish community in Indiana, so I thought that surely red brick buildings on a college campus wouldn’t be entirely new to her. Still, most of the Amish I see these days work at the local farmer’s market, where most accept credit cards and some even use cell phones, so they are probably not the best examples.
I’m not much of an inspirational reader, so how I respond to this novel might not match how inspirational fans will respond. While I admired the characters for the strength of their beliefs, I didn’t always agree with where those beliefs led them – maybe because I couldn’t imagine living the Amish lifestyle. Yet while religion formed the core of this book, I didn’t find it preachy – a problem I’ve had with other inspirational novels. It’s also fun seeing characters fall in love without showing them so much as kiss because the writer has to show them simply talking and getting along. Gray picks up this challenge and runs with it. So while I wouldn’t necessarily seek this out, inspirational fans (or those who’ve read the others in the series) might find it worth their while.