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Beside Still Waters by Tricia Goyer

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel

"Goyer’s story is ultimately a journey toward faith."

Tricia Goyer’s latest addition to Amish fiction continues to push the genre away from very sweet slice of life tales. Beginning with a fatal accident, floating across a life of self-doubt and sliding into eye-opening cultural acclimation, Goyer’s story is ultimately a journey toward faith.

Marianna Sommer is brought up in a traditional Amish society in Indiana. The constant reminder of her early birth on the day her two older sisters died has left her feeling inadequate. In an effort to overcome this perception, Marianna strives to keep the strict observances of her religious community, even if she doesn’t understand them. Her older brother and several of her friends rebel and join the enticing way of outsiders. Marianna’s father decides to move the family to a different Amish community in Montana, against the wishes of his wife, and Marianna who is on the brink of becoming engaged. Marianna agrees to help the family settle for six months, then return to Indiana and resume her life.

Abe Sommer, Marianna’s father, is not just attempting to protect his family from worldly influence, he is also searching for a deeper faith. As the family is exposed to the new community that has different traditions and more easily integrates with local faithful people who are not Amish, both Abe and Marianna reach a new understanding of the grace of God.

Although I am glad to read a novel about a search for deeper relationship to God no matter the faith tradition, I found Beside Still Waters a bit too still. The first third of the book is about the rather gullible Marianna’s insecurities as she struggles to please her work-worn and ever-pregnant mother. Her almost-suitor expects her to understand his unspoken intentions. I paged through some of the more back water passages to find out what was going to happen once the family moved. The new characters introduced in Montana confused Marianna about her narrow view of life as she thought it should be.

Readers won’t find a nice, tidy ending to Beside Still Waters, and perhaps that’s all right, as a faith walk shouldn’t truly end. A major theme, the inability to communicate effectively, is a problem that transcends cultures, but the story left me unsettled because of my many unanswered questions. The described scenery is luscious, the enclosed recipes are fun, and the questions about faith and lifestyle choice are very real.

Lisa J. LickelLisa Lickel lives in Wisconsin with her high school teacher husband in a 150-year-old Great Lakes ship captain's house. She is active in more than one historical society, belongs to writing and reading clubs and is the editor in chief of Creative Wisconsin, the magazine of Wisconsin Regional Writers. A graduate of the Christian Writer's Guild, she has written newspaper features and magazine articles, radio theater, and authored several inspirational novels. Find her online at http://lisalickel.com, http://wisconsinauthorreview.blogspot.com, http://reflectionsinhindsight.wordpress.com, and Facebook.