Thursday, 28 July 2011

Something Old (Plain City Bridesmaids #1) - Dianne Christner


Nineteen-year-old Katy Yoder is looking forward to cherishing friendship and the single life when she moves in to a renovated Dawdi house with her best friends, Lily and Megan. Katy is satisfied with her lot in life, working as a cleaner for various local families, and isn’t quite ready to settle down and get married just yet, unlike many other Mennonite girls her age. Still suffering from the hurt she experienced when her long-term boyfriend, Jake, left to join the English world, Katy would rather not entertain thoughts of dating anyone else until she’s sure that she’s completely over Jake. But her simple little world is soon disrupted when Jake himself returns to the church, not looking any worse for wear from his worldly adventures and keen to help get involved in rebuilding the church hall – a project which Katy is also participating in. No matter what she does, Katy can’t seem to avoid Jake, and his constant presence makes her wonder whether she can ever get over their past relationship. Jake is keen to pick up where they left off before he went to university, but Katy doesn’t want to settle for “damaged goods”, especially after seeing his English ex-girlfriend. Can Katy put aside her judgements of the English world and accept Jake for who he is now, ignoring his past transgressions?

As a fan of Amish fiction, it was fascinating to read about a Mennonite community and learn about how different – or similar – their way of life is. The mentions of electricity and cars came as a surprise initially, but some similarities remained, such as prayer kapps and the distrust of the internet. But as much as I enjoyed learning about a new way of life, I did struggle to view the Mennonite lifestyle through the eyes of Katy. She had a very narrow-minded perspective of the world, to the extent that any form of dancing was a sin and drinking alcohol immediately brought about drunken and lewd behaviour. As someone from a church which engages in dancing as a form of worship and who appreciates a good Shiraz, naturally I was a bit bemused by Katy’s black and white view on life. It’s particularly interesting to note that I’m nineteen myself, and have been living away from home for two years and am engaged to get married next year – a lot of similarities to Katy. But despite these connections, I still found her outlook on life to be very narrow-minded and judgemental, and her attitude towards her relationship with Jake very immature. I’m not saying this as someone with a wealth of life-experience who can view events in hindsight, but as someone who’s actually at a very similar stage in their life to Katy. To be honest, if I came across someone like her in a class at my university, I wouldn’t be rushing to become friends with her, particularly if she was going to call me a sinner when I attended a dance class or went to the pub.

That said, Katy does redeem herself. It just takes a very long time for this to happen. In a sense, this is a coming-of-age story, where Katy slowly comes to realise that her attitudes are wrong and gently matures throughout the course of the story. I’m not sure whether this book is being marketed for the adult or young adult range, but I definitely think it would be better suited for girls in their mid-teens, perhaps 14 – 16 year olds. If I, at nineteen, struggled with Katy’s immature behaviour, I’m not sure how someone my mum’s age would react. Maybe they’d have more patience, or maybe they’d be even more frustrated! But as Katy’s attitudes were very typical of a teenager – I’m sure I probably shared some of her limited world-views as a fifteen-year-old – this is probably a book that would appeal more to the young adult market. There are a lot of life-lessons to be learnt from this book, about everything from friendships to living to arrangements to relationships with parents to boyfriends to job-hunting. The friendship between Katy and her house-mate Lily is very typical of the ones I remember from high school, and would probably be easily recognised by girls of this age.

The romance between Katy and Jake was all over the place, and one of those ones that could have easily been made more manageable if the two of them sat down together and talked and actually listened to each other. One pet peeve of mine in romance novels is when everything blows up in a relationship because of a Big Misunderstanding that could be cleared up if the characters slowed down long enough to talk it over. I’m afraid this book had a few BMs in it. Naturally, these BMs can be attributed to Katy’s immaturity, but this doesn’t negate how irritating it was for me as a reader. As pleased as I was that Katy eventually got the guts to talk to Jake about his time “in the world” and forgive him for his mistakes, I couldn’t help but wonder if the book would have been more interesting if Jake had truly rebelled in his time at university and Katy had had to come to terms with Jake truly being “damaged goods” in her eyes. As it was, Jake had merely gone to a few parties, drank a few beers and shared a couple of kisses with one girl. Katy spent a lot of the book worrying about whether Jake had still remained pure in his time at university, and I know from personal experience that a lot of nice Christian girls end up marrying guys who did far worse than Jake in their rebellious periods, so I think the book might have been more interesting if Katy had bigger and more serious relationship hurdles to overcome. Alas, the issue of remaining pure until marriage and then marrying someone who never considered the importance of purity in their youth has yet to be covered in any book I’ve read. But back to Katy – naturally, as this series is titled Plain City Bridesmaids, the book ends in a wedding. Despite my misgivings about the BMs scattered throughout their relationship, I am happy that our hero and heroine put aside their preconceived ideas about relationships and accepted each other for who they are. I just with that the book hadn’t suddenly jumped to a wedding, as I felt that Katy and Jake’s relationship was still quite young and immature, and they needed more time to make sure that they can actually remain a couple without blowing up again over a tiny issue, before tying the knot.

If it appears that I’m ripping this book to shreds, I do apologise. The problems that I encountered when reading this book aren’t to do with flaws in the plot or characterisation or even the writing itself, but the simple fact that this book seems to have been written for a younger audience. I’m sure a teenage girl would adore this book and understand Katy’s dilemmas, not finding her as immature and narrow-minded as I did. I would caution more mature readers to be aware of the very teenage feel of this novel, although those who love YA fiction probably wouldn’t have the same frustrations as myself. Despite my misgivings with this book, I will admit that I did mostly enjoy reading it, although I did want to take Katy by the shoulders and shake her several times throughout the story.

Review title provided courtesy of Barbour Publishing.

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