The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim takes us into the conservative, secretive world of the Old Order Mennonites. The author does a brilliant job of telling a modern story against the backdrop of a people who live as though time stood still many centuries ago. The twists and turns of the plot were most unexpected, and I found myself taking guesses as to how the story would be resolved and being pleasantly surprised when I was completely wrong! Petersheim's debut novel is a compelling retelling of The Scarlett Letter, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Rachel Stoltzfus is the independent and vivacious counterpoint to her twin sister Leah. They are opposite in almost every way except looks, but the bond they share runs deep. When Rachel suddenly turns up pregnant and refuses to name the baby's father, her strict Mennonite community shuns her as an outcast. The heartbreak that follows is told through the perspectives of Rachel, her sister, and her sister's husband as they come to terms with betrayal, forgiveness and ultimately, redemptive healing.
The Outcast is told in two different first person narratives, with one point of view being a deceased person who almost acts as a reliable witness to all that is happening, one without bias. I enjoyed this interplay between Rachel, who is so personally involved in every act of betrayal and sacrifice born from her sin, to Amos, the deceased minister who has an otherworldly perspective of his community's thoughts and feelings. The characters that Petershiem creates are rich and vibrant, particularly Ida Mae, whose rough edges and deep feelings make for a most interesting read. Although at times I felt the story was tending toward the melodramatic, is held a very real and visceral grip on the realities of our world and how choices we make can result in devastating consequences.
I would highly recommend this novel and author to anyone who enjoys a good piece of inspirational fiction. It was neither predictable nor heavy handed. The spiritual nature of the book was very understated, but I did not have a problem with that as the themes of forgiveness and healing were very prevalent throughout the novel. I look forward to reading Jolina Petersheim's next offering!
Disclosure of Material: I received a complimentary copy from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.