19 December 2014

Review: Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts

Compelling Historical Romance

I’m going to start by saying I’ve read quite a bit of Amish and Mennonite romance in the past, and haven’t enjoyed most of it. I find the heroines are generally immature, probably a result of young age and a lack of education. I find the books are often full of too-perfect characters living a romanticised a lifestyle that seems to value obedience to rules rather than salvation by grace. The fact the rules seem to differ between communities points to rules made by men rather than by God, and I’m sceptical any time a religion puts the rule of man above the Word of God. I’ve also been disappointed by the quality of writing in some of the books.

However, I get annoyed by readers and critics who write off an entire genre (e.g. Christian fiction) because of a few bad reads, so I do continue to read Amish fiction from time to time, although I tend to pick titles that look a little different than the standard romance—generally titles which include some non-Amish characters.

Promise to Cherish is one of these. It’s the second title in The Promise of Sunrise series (although it can easily be read as a standalone novel), and follows the stories of Christine Freeman, a nurse in a mental hospital in World War II America, and Eli Brenneman, a Conscientious Objector serving in the same hospital as part of the Civilian Public Service camp scheme.

The two meet and become friends, and when the war ends and Christine needs a place to live, Eli invites her back to Sunrise—which causes it’s own set of problems.

I liked the way that none of the characters were too-perfect caricatures, even the Amish. All the characters felt like real people facing difficult decisions that challenged their personal beliefs, and even though several of the characters had conflicting beliefs, both sides were examined respectfully.

I didn’t like the descriptions of the mental hospital, or the fact that not all the patients had psychiatric problems: one was a Down’s syndrome man, and another was a deaf-mute. Although unpleasant, the scenes were written sympathetically and I’m sure they were representative of conditions in a time where mental illness wasn’t so well understood by the medical profession or the general public, and where there simply wasn’t the manpower to give the people the care they deserved.

Overall, Promise to Cherish isn’t the standard wishy-washy Amish romance, but a novel raising some important issues, and one I certainly enjoyed reading.

One warning: don’t read the Amazon book description, or the book description on the author’s own website. Both give away significant plot details, one of which only happens at the climax of the novel. I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book nearly as much if I’d known what was coming.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Elizabeth Byler Younts at her website.

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