Home All Along
Based on the cover copy of Home All Along, I was looking forward to an emotional read about two people separated by culture and religion, and the obstacles they overcome to find their happily-ever-after. Sadly though, I was disappointed in the novel’s execution; the author assumes familiarity with the first two books of the Amish Secrets series and does not provide any backstory. Since I had not read those books I found myself awash in unfamiliar history and characters. In spite of Home All Along having some good moments and the romantic plot and subplots being interesting, the confusion caused by the novel’s setup kept me from giving it a higher grade.
Because this is a continuation of a story begun in the first two books of the trilogy, this review contains spoilers for those novels.
Her Brother’s Keeper, the first book in the trilogy introduces the reader to Charlotte Dolinsky, a young woman living in Houston who moves to the Amish community of Paradise, Pennsylvania, to discover the circumstances surrounding her brother Ethan’s suicide. In the second novel, Charlotte, still an Englisher, has settled in Paradise, and the story focuses on her growing relationship with an Amish man, Daniel Byler.
This final installment opens at Charlotte’s mother’s funeral. In a show of love and friendship, the Amish community from Paradise makes up a large part of the gathering. Charlotte appreciates the support, especially from Daniel who, in one particularly poignant moment, squeezes her hand. It’s a rare display of affection since the Amish typically aren’t big on that kind of overt, public gesture. His kind comfort as she weeps over the casket leads her to say what has been on her heart for a long time: I love you very much. Daniel, assuring her he has been waiting a long time to hear that and say it back, speaks of his love as well.
But the course of true love rarely does run smoothly and Daniel and Charlotte are to be no exception. Charlotte’s abandoned sister, Andrea, appears unexpectedly at their mother’s funeral and expects to visit and quickly leave, whereas Charlotte hopes to turn this opportunity into a more permanent reunion. In getting settled in Paradise, Charlotte was ‘adopted’ by Amos and Lena King who have kept the news of the recurrence of Lena’s breast cancer from Charlotte in an attempt not to burden her with more bad news. But when Charlotte learns of it, she struggles with a renewed sense of being an outsider and not worthy of belonging to the community. Meanwhile, Daniel’s entire family faces a crisis when their mother, pregnant in her fifties, suffers devastating pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy. Daniel’s younger sister is experiencing an additional crisis since she is in secret communication with her boyfriend who has left and returned to the community several times, bruising her heart in the process
Each of these characters plays a prominent role in the novel, and much space is used to lay out their backgrounds and current problems. The author presents all this information with only surface emotional connections, and as a result I felt a bit lost. There is a serious disconnect between what the author, or the book’s marketing, promises – a romance novel – and what is actually delivered – Christian fiction with a love story. I recognized too late that the romance between Charlotte and Daniel actually spans two books, and I as a new reader had been dropped into the middle of their romantic journey along with the journeys of a host of other people. I found the experience confusing and dissatisfying.
Because there are so many interwoven subplots, there is a lot of telling, not much showing and little deep emotional point-of-view. For example, at one point, Daniel reflects that Charlotte is always “putting everyone’s needs before her own”, but we are not shown exactly how Charlotte is being unselfish. We learn later that Charlotte had allowed Lena to stay at her home in Houston while Lena was undergoing cancer treatment, but this and other unselfish acts happened in the previous books, and until Daniel mentions it, the character trait is not shown in Home All Along.
I did, however, like the theme of decision-making in life that is present in the second half of the book. Ms. Wiseman tackles the difficult subject of end-of-life decisions in a realistic fashion and addresses very relevant issues surrounding legalities and potential conflicts. Charlotte’s consideration as to whether to join the Amish community provides valuable insight into any decision that will impact us as well as those we love. How much weight does the beloved’s opinion have in the decision? What decisions should be made in concert with another person and which need to be made on our own? There are solid life lessons in both these situations, and they are presented with insight and sensitivity.
If you’ve already read the other books in the series, you will probably enjoy Home All Along. For other readers, even with the background of the previous stories, you may find the novel rushed, the romance secondary, and the reading experience less than satisfying.