Sometimes we all need to read outside our comfort zones, and for me, that generally means picking up a fantasy book. But because I’ve been reading more and more fantasy, I decided I need to read more in the Christian/Spiritual fiction arena. This is a growing area in the publishing world, and at my library, these books fly off the shelf.
Last week, I spent a few days in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Though A Summer Secret, the first in Kathleen Fuller’s forthcoming “The Mysteries of Middlefield” series is set in an Amish area of Ohio, the setting really got me into the book.
Mary Beth, a 13-year-old Amish girl, has spent many of her days sketching out by the abandoned barn near the end of her family’s property. It doesn’t belong to her family, and she’s been told not to go in there since it wasn’t stable. But, she likes the freedom she gets in going down there and drawing, so she rationalizes that as long as she stays outside the barn, she’ll be fine.
The more time she spends down there, though, the more she notices strange things happening. First, it was a button (and the Amish do not wear buttons but instead use pins). Then, some of the juice boxes in the barn begin to disappear. Her journal, which she has left in the barn, has also been rifled through. When she runs into her twin brother down in the barn — and yes, he’s not supposed to be there either, but he has been hanging out down there at night to get away — they discover the footprint of a sneaker that definitely belongs to an outsider.
The twins soon find their uninvited guest is a boy of their age who has run away from foster care. Throughout the book, Mary Beth and her brother will forge a relationship with Sawyer, helping him survive and thinking up ways to make his life stronger. But when a strong crack of lightning strikes the barn, Mary Beth and her brother may just find themselves in heaps of trouble with their family for sneaking around and lying.
A Summer Secret is a strong middle grade novel, and while there is a very Christian bent to the story, it is never overwhelming. Because the story is set in the Amish community, it works quite well. I thought that Fuller did a good job of incorporating some of the Amish language into the book, as well. For me, this is the sort of book that is an easy sell to girls in the 11-14 year-old range since it is clean and has enough mystery and intrigue to keep the story moving.
Some loose ends in the book didn’t tie together, including Mary Beth’s mother’s pregnancy. It’s easy to see coming from the start of the book, and it would have been worthwhile to tie up at the end. The characters of Mary Beth and Sawyer are pretty well developed, though the other characters do not seem as well fleshed. I think this is made up for with the quick pacing. I was a little disappointed in the end of the book, as it wraps up a little too cleanly and conveniently and in my mind, a little unrealistically.
My real disappointment with the book is the narrative style. This is told in a third person voice, and I believe that had this story been rewritten in first person, it would have been built on stronger bones. I’d love to hear Mary Beth’s inner voice since she’s such an interesting character. I think this may have been a missed opportunity to really get behind her and show us as readers why she wanted to help Sawyer and how her faith and Amish values helped her make the decisions she did.
I read A Summer Secret while waiting for my plane home and on the first half of my flight. It’s a fast read and keeps readers hooked. I was pleasantly surprised in this genre, and I plan on seeking out further books in this ilk since there are definitely good reads here. Fuller herself has penned some adult books, as well, and I’m eager to see if she can delve into the psyche of any of her main characters, as I’d love to read about the Amish lifestyle straight from that mindset.
* Review copy provided by the publisher, though the book is available now.