Thursday, June 09, 2011

Review: Growing Up Amish

Growing Up Amish: A Memoir

About the Book:
One fateful starless night, 17-year-old Ira Wagler got up at 2 AM, left a scribbled note under his pillow, packed all of his earthly belongings into in a little black duffel bag, and walked away from his home in the Amish settlement of Bloomfield, Iowa. Now, in this heartwarming memoir, Ira paints a vivid portrait of Amish life—from his childhood days on the family farm, his Rumspringa rite of passage at age 16, to his ultimate decision to leave the Amish Church for good at age 26. Growing Up Amish is the true story of one man’s quest to discover who he is and where he belongs. Readers will laugh, cry, and be inspired by this charming yet poignant coming of age story set amidst the backdrop of one of the most enigmatic cultures in America today—the Old Order Amish.

My Comments:
I tend to approach books by those who have left particular faiths with a healthy dose of skepticism, figuring that even if they are not downright false, they tend to see glasses as half-full rather than half-empty--after all, if they had liked the faith community and its beliefs, they would have stayed.  However, the Amish have always fascinated me,and when this book became available on NetGalley, I grabbed it.

Ira Wagler was the son of an Amish author, a man who wrote for a magazine popular with the Amish.  He had the typical Amish childhood of farm work and family.  However, as the blurb indicates, when he was seventeen he left home and the Amish faith.  What the blurb doesn't tell you is that he returned several times before leaving for good when he was in his late twenties.  We see the Amish and Amish life through the eyes of one who doesn't fit, who doesn't like the restricted lifestyle, but who is afraid to cut the ties completely because of fear of damnation if he does.  

Wagler spends a lot of time talking about his spiritual struggle.  While Amish he was taught that those who leave the Amish faith are condemned because they knew the truth and rejected it.  His family wouldn't accept him as a member of another faith.  Clearly it cost him to leave the Amish and he struggled with the decision for years.  I was expecting more cute anecdotes about "the first time I...." but there were relatively few of those.  Given the title, I expected more about an Amish childhood or Amish teen years.  He did talk about his Amish courtship, but there wasn't much said about childhood per se.  In short, this was much more a book about Wagler's disaffection with Amish life and his on-again, off-again Amish lifestyle during his late teens and twenties than it was a book about Amish life.   Grade:  B

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via NetGalley.

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