Wednesday, 18 May 2011

What the Heart Sees - Kathleen Fuller

Fans of Kathleen Fuller will be delighted to discover that three of her novellas have been repackaged into one volume. The stories, which previously appeared in An Amish Christmas, An Amish Gathering and An Amish Love respectively, are romantic tales of young Amish men and women discovering and rekindling love and healing past hurts.

In A Miracle for Miriam, Miriam must reconcile her memories of Seth, the boy who teased her as a teenager, with the young man he has become. Seth is in for a culture shock, returning to his Amish family after he was seriously injured in a car accident. But his near-death experience has made him to rethink his life, causing him see everything in a different light – including Miriam. In order to pursue a relationship with her reformed would-be-suitor, Miriam has to learn to forgive and let go of past grudges, or miss out on the chance of falling in love.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, especially as it was the first time I’d read about an Amish woman who was insecure about her appearance. It made me rethink my expectation that all Amish are able to focus purely on inner beauty. After all, everyone strives not to be vain and to focus on what cannot be seen, but our human flaws cause us to be concerned with the physical. Miriam’s self-consciousness combined with the hurt she had experienced as an impressionable teen made her a very relatable heroine. Seth also had his own difficulties, regarding the injuries he suffered in a car accident, but he’s such a gentleman that it’s impossible not to fall for him. While I did struggle to believe that one isolated incident – Seth had only teased her about her looks on one occasion, so it wasn’t as if she experienced repeated bullying – would cause Miriam to be so self-conscious about her appearance, I did find it refreshing to read about an Amish woman who struggled with insecurity and low self-confidence. Those who think that the Amish are romanticised will be pleased to find such a realistic and character-driven story.

Amanda is surprised to discover that her childhood best friend, Josiah, has returned from Indiana to fix up his old family home in A Place of His Own. But she’s shocked that Josiah doesn’t want her company, and is keen to sell his old house and leave Paradise as soon as possible. Slowly, Amanda begins to draw Josiah out of his shell and make him face the long-buried wounds that are still causing him pain. Can this healing process rekindle their friendship, and maybe even spark embers of love?

While I found Amanda and Josiah’s story to be the weakest in the collection, I did end up enjoying it once it really got started. Unfortunately, I felt that the plot didn’t really begin until several chapters in, which can be annoying in such a short novella. Other reviewers have commented that they think A Place of His Own would be stronger as a full-length novel, and I’m inclined to agree with them. There was so much potential and a lot of unexplored areas in this novella, so I think Kathleen was just restricted by her word count. And while I warmed up to Josiah after a while, I really struggled with the character of Amanda, who no matter what she said or did, still seemed very two-dimensional and shallow. I hope that readers don’t judge Kathleen based on this story, as it’s still a good effort and is sandwiched by two other excellent stories.

The last novella also shares its name with the collection, What the Heart Sees. This story is my favourite out of the three, and tells the tale of a prodigal son who returns to the Amish for his sister’s wedding and ends up befriending a blind girl. I was fortunate enough to read this story earlier in the year, so please check out my review of An Amish Love to read my thoughts on it.

I’ve yet to read any of Kathleen Fuller’s full-length novels, but if her novellas are any clue, I’m sure they’re an excellent addition to the Amish genre. Although I enjoyed each of the stories in this collection, I think their weakness is that they share very common themes. Seth, Josiah and Chris are all returning from the English world, and all three of the women are late into their courting years and worried that they’ll never find love. I’m sure these novellas worked very well in their original collections, but bound together I felt that they were rather repetitive with their tortured heroes and insecure heroines. This is a storyline that Kathleen does very well, but after reading it three times I couldn’t help but wondering if I should have left a larger gap between reading each of the novellas. I do recommend this collection, especially if you’re a fan of Kathleen Fuller, but I’d suggest spacing your reading of these stories. 8/10

Review title sent courtesy of Thomas Nelson.

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