Lillian Mae Landis considers herself a plain woman in every aspect – birth, upbringing, church, clothes and looks. She has always dreamed of being something more, specifically, being head chef at a restaurant, despite the teaching of her Conservative Mennonite church that married women don’t work outside the home, and that such ambitions are prideful and therefore sinful. There are also problems at home – the family farm is almost bankrupt, her brother has left their Conservative church, and her mother is experiencing depression, which has (in their Conservative circles) a stigma of personal and spiritual failure.
Fletch Stauffer is also a Mennonite, but from a more progressive sect. He is a missionary kid, now training to be a vet at the advice of Marshall, a long-term financial contributor to his parents’ mission. His dream is to be ordinary, because living in Africa as a child meant he’d always been different from everyone else. Lily and Fletch meet after she backs into his car in the parking lot of the restaurant where she works. They are quickly attracted to each other, and get the opportunity to spend time together when Fletch’s vet internship brings him to the Landis pig farm.
Conflict arrives when Fletch is asked to undertake some voluntary work at an animal shelter, then makes an error of judgement that loses him the trust of the Landis family, including Lily. He then has to work through what he should have done, and make amends. Meanwhile, Lily is facing her own challenges, including what to do if her relationship with Fletch progresses, as she can’t imagine him joining her church, yet she knows it would hurt her family if she were to leave.
The story was initially confusing, as it started with three ten-year-old Mennonite girls at summer camp, then skipped forward several years without making clear exactly how old the friends now were. My initial reaction was that I’d accidentally stumbled on a Young Adult novel, which was not what I was expecting (while I have no objection to reading YA, I like to know in advance). While it soon became apparent that the three friends are now adults (as one had just married), parts of the novel still had a rather YA feel to them. I’m not sure if that was because of the young age and level of maturity of the protagonists (early 20’s, I think), because of a lack of worldliness in the Conservative Mennonite Church, or because of my personal views on the scriptural basis for some of the church rules, but it did mean that it took me a while to get into it. I also found the ending a bit abrupt, almost as though the last chapter was deleted to make room for the epilogue.
Something New (Plain City)follows on from Something Old(the story of Kate and Jake), so I’m guessing the next in the series will be Something Borrowed (the story of Mercy, the last of the three friends), possibly followed by Something Blue? They don’t have to be read in order, although many people do prefer to read in order to avoid spoilers. However, it’s a romance, which, by definition has to have a ‘happy ever after’. How much more of a spoiler could there be? I did enjoy Something New (Plain City), but it was not, for me, a great novel. I would read more novels by Dianne Christner, but she won’t be one of those authors I read or buy automatically.
Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook to review.