Rethinking Amish romances


Weaver-Zurcher's The Thrill of the Chaste leaves readers better informed

By Kathryn Glanzer

If you are an Amish romance fan, please excuse my inexperience. I am by no means an expert in this fast growing genre; I stopped reading Amish romance as a teenager in the 1990s. Recently, however, I have revisited the possibilities of “bonnet books” while discussing the influence of today’s fiction with my 14-year-old daughter, Anna.

This discussion came to a peak when I discovered a teen fantasy vampire book in her backpack. My husband and I forced her to read the first two chapters out loud, followed by a “mature” discussion about how to choose fiction. Feeling very proud of my parenting skills, it all backfired when my daughter pointed out the complete Twilight series still on my bookshelf.

Obviously, there are “better” books available to us for entertaining fiction. Is the solution inspirational fiction? For my daughter, the choice is becoming increasingly difficult. Teen fantasy fiction and Amish romance are certainly not the only two genres available to Christian teenage girls, but they are the most available and fastest growing.

I approached Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s book, The Thrill of the Chaste, expecting a defense for the genre, but found it to be an extensive and fair examination of multiple perspectives. Indeed, it examined why this genre has steadily grown successful. Weaver-Zercher describes her book as a “narrative scholarship”: a marriage of heavy analysis and her own rocky journey with Amish romance. She describes various contributing factors to the genre such as preconceived assumptions about the Amish and the assumed audience. There are interviews with Amish and non-Amish, writers and avid readers, publishers and naysayers. Each is fairly represented and given a voice. I confess to beginning my journey with her book as a naysayer.

In the end, Weaver-Zercher’s analysis of the genre gives little in way of advice. Readers are left more informed but must decide for themselves what to do with it. I admit to occasionally wanting my daughter to read Amish romance, to be influenced by the “wholesome” and simplified appearance of the Amish lifestyle. The “momma bear” in me agrees our culture is smothering teenage girls with expectations of seductive looks and technological savvy; however, the feminist side of me has difficulty with the dutiful, domestic women of the Amish romance stories.

Nevertheless, Weaver-Zercher has changed my opinion about how I examine the books I read for entertainment. Books ripple through our minds and influence our thoughts. However, I dismissed a whole genre based on one of its attributes (its depiction of women), while making allowances for other genres. In the end, I should examine all books as closely as Weaver-Zercher does—being aware of how books are often designed to feed what an audience wants, not necessarily what it needs.

Weaver-Zercher has made this naysayer reconsider her assumptions. Perhaps this genre deserves another chance. After all, Amish romance is also filled with beautiful lessons of faith and devotion. I have decided to read one with my daughter and see how it ripples through our assumptions. Now…which one?

Katherine Glanzer is a member of the English faculty at Hesston College, a two-year college of Mennonite Church USA that is located in Hesston, Kan. Glanzer is a member of Ebenfeld MB Church, Hillsboro, Kan.


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