Two women—a young mother and a teenage Mennonite—confront life’s hardships with a renewed faith in God in this debut Christian novel.
Mary is a young, idealistic girl growing up on a traditional Mennonite farm (automobiles but no furnace or running water) in Canada. Francis defied her upwardly mobile parents to marry the love of her life, Mike, and is a mother of two in Edmonton. Angered, Francis’ mother neither calls nor visits and has never seen her grandchildren. Mary helps her family with the farm, goes on picnics with her friends, and feels the first stirrings of love for a friend of the family, John, who is leaving town to study theology. Mary’s brother, David, also feels a calling to serve the Lord, and he discusses with Mary his thoughts about true salvation apart from mere obedience to their Mennonite customs. Mary’s parents do not approve of other denominations, but they recognize that outreach to youth is lacking in their congregation. Francis and Mike struggle to make ends meet in Edmonton, but Mike’s drinking and free-wheeling friends prey on his deep sense of inadequacy. He becomes abusive, and when Francis announces a third pregnancy, he beats her severely and abandons his family. Devastated, Francis is helped by a Christian co-worker. When David dies unexpectedly in an accident, Mary too turns to drinking and partying, and she runs away from home when she becomes pregnant. By juxtaposing Mennonite and secular cultures, developing strong female characters, and—best of all—crafting an ambiguous but hopeful tale, Schmidt has created a layered, satisfying novel. Rather than exotify the Anabaptist life, Schmidt characterizes Mennonites as having much the same problems as everyone else (though with a stricter view of “rebellion”). However, one drawback is that having Francis’ mother totally withdraw and her husband disappear is too convenient—a meddling mother and messy divorce would make the story more realistic. It would also make Mary’s subsequent flight, and her eventual meeting with Francis, more of a surprise.
A well-written first novel with complex characters and unexpected twists on old themes.