21 May 2012

Review: Leaving Lancaster by Kate Lloyd

Almost forty years have passed since Esther Gingerich and Samuel Fisher ran away from their Amish upbringing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and headed west to live in a hippie commune and sing on the streets of San Francisco. They married, Samuel was drafted, shipped off to Vietnam and declared MIA, leaving Esther to raise their daughter alone because she was too proud to return to her family. Holly grew up believing her grandparents were dead, so it comes as a complete shock to her when Esther announces her intention to visit their Amish family, and wants Holly to come.

The story alternates between being told in the first person (by 37-year-old Holly) and the third person (from the point of view of Esther, Holly's mother). I continually found myself backtracking to the beginning of the chapter because I hadn't picked up the change. Call me fussy, but combining first person and third person doesn't ring true for me. It reminds me that I'm just reading a story about a bunch of made-up characters. This meant that I was noticing the writing rather than being carried along by the story, and as a result, I kept finding more things that bothered me While these were mostly minor, many of which were addressed later in the story, I found these glitches were pulling me out of the story.

For example, should I really be getting distracted by a Wikipedia article on how the Vietnam draft worked in the US when I am reading a contemporary novel set in Amish Pennsylvania? (How does a homeless hippie get drafted anyway? And when is this novel set? Holly is 37, and Wikipedia tells me the US stopped drafting men in 1973, which means this novel is set in 2010, not 2012. Yes, that is exactly how picky I get when the story isn’t grabbing me sufficiently).

There were also contradictions. At one point, Esther thinks “According to her folks’ bishop and preachers, if she didn’t obey the Ordnung, God would never allow her into paradise”, then later “[Amish] ways centered on obeying God”. So are these Amish obeying God or the Ordnung? Jesus and the New Testament Pharisees taught us that obeying the rules is not the same as obeying God, and as a Bible-reading Christian, Esther should know that.

And I found Holly a little hard to relate to. I could understand her anger and resentment towards her mother for having hidden her very alive family for so many years. I could not understand someone living in a shop selling Amish goods yet knowing so little about the Amish and their customs. She also struck me as very self-centred, and I didn’t really see this change as the story progressed.

Overall, I can’t say that I enjoyed Leaving Lancaster. Plot-wise, it wasn’t bad, with an underlying theme of honesty and forgiveness. But I found the writing style too distracting to allow me to get into and enjoy the story, so I had to struggle to finish it.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.


  1. I agree with you. I thought it could have been so much better. But we are a minority, apparently.

  2. I agree with you on most of your points. What really sticks out in my mind (it was a few months ago that I read it) was how immature Holly acted; I constantly pictured a teenager rather than the 37 year old woman she was supposed to be. All things considered, I was really glad when I finished this one so I could move on to other things.