Rebecca Switzer has a crush on Englischer Jesse Montgomery, but knows that her father will never permit another daughter to marry a non-Amish man. At seventeen, Rebecca hasn’t seen the cattle drover for four years, yet she still harbours a fantasy that he will return to Apple Grove, Kansas, join the Amish and marry her. She finds out the Jesse is living in Lawrence, Texas, so enlists the help of her sister and brother-in-law to travel alone to Lawrence, announce her love to Jesse and bring him back to Apple Grove.
This first impression of Rebecca is not good. She is wilful and naïve, not a good combination at any age but particularly not for a teenager who fancies herself in love with a virtual stranger than she hasn’t seen or heard from in years, especially one with a reputation for drinking and women. Her justification for this very un-Amish behaviour is that as she is on rumspringa, not yet baptised into the church, and therefore should be permitted an adventure before adopting a lifetime of obedience to the Ordnung.
Unfortunately for Rebecca, when she arrives in Lawrence, she finds herself arrested with the women of the local temperance movement, and jailed for ninety days under the supervision of town Sheriff Colin Maddox. We then get introduced to Amos Beiler, a widow with three children who is interested in marrying Rebecca, who, at thirteen years her senior, is closer in age to his daughter than to him. I think that's a bit creepy. It is creepy in real life (Michael Douglas, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney) and it's creepy in fiction.
The story was well-written and I really liked Colin and the other Lawrence townsfolk. I just found it difficult to like Rebecca, and it’s really hard to like a book when, as a reader, you don’t like or can’t related to the main character. Overall, I found the temperance subplot much more interesting than the main romance plot, which was a more than a little unbelievable, both in terms of timing and a lack of romantic tension.
I read A Plain and Simple Heart because I wondered if an Amish romance would be better for being set in a time where the technological differences between the Amish and the Englisch were not so obvious. It wasn't. The writing was good, but it had the same vapid heroine as many of the contemporary equivalents. Maybe she reminds me of myself at that age; maybe she is a sign of what I hope my own daughter won't become; maybe she just makes me think of Bella from Twilight. Either way, I just couldn't relate to Rebecca.
This book is the second in The Amish of Apple Grove series, but can easily be read as a stand-alone. The Heart's Frontier dealt with the romance between Emma (Rebecca’s sister) and Luke. They seem to be nice characters, from what little we saw of them in A Plain and Simple Heart, so that may be worth reading. But unless you are a fan of teenage romance or Amish fiction, I wouldn’t recommend A Plain and Simple Heart.