Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Double Take - Melody Carlson


How could two girls who look so alike be so different? When rich city-girl Madison Van Buren runs into her lookalike at a cafe in an Amish community in Pennsylvania, she begins to wonder how her life would have turned out if she's been born into the slow-paced country life of Anna Fisher. Stressed out by college choices, a possessive boyfriend, a needy best friend and her divorced parents, Madison sees Anna as an escape into a simpler way of life. Anna is tempted by the lure of freedom from responsibilities, and not having to constantly do chores and care for younger relatives. Living in New York would give her the chance to find her old boyfriend, Jacob, who left the Amish several years ago and hasn't been in contact. But switching lives turns out to be a lot more complicated than Madison and Anna imagined, and their plans for a carefree escape from their troubles doesn't work out quite as they expected. Both of them have something to learn about life, relationships and even God.

Those who read my reviews may have noticed that I’m not particularly interested in YA fiction. But when I saw that Melody Carlson, Queen of Christian Teen Fiction, was jumping on the Amish bandwagon (or buggy, as may be more appropriate) I couldn't help but request a review copy. And despite my doubts about how well Amish fiction would transfer to the YA market - particularly with a cover that's just a tad too cheesy for my liking - this is definitely one that I'd recommend. It took me a few chapters to adapt to Melody's style of writing and fit back into the mindset of a teenage girl, but once I found myself settled in the story, I didn't want to put it down.

Ignoring the plausibility of two girls looking so alike and just happening to run into each other, I loved the "Parent Trap" style plot of this book. Who hasn't wondered what their life would be like in a different place? As a British teen captivated by American TV shows and books, I used to daydream about attending an American high school like the fictional ones I was so familiar with. Like Anna, I believed my life would be so much more exciting away from home. But Anna soon finds that life in a city is much more overwhelming than she thought, and that it's not going to be easy finding Jacob in a city packed full of people. Plus, Madison's phone is difficult to operate, the TV shows seem mindless and none of Madison's clothes are remotely modest. She also has to deal with Madison's boyfriend, whom she ropes into helping in her search for Jacob, and an old friend of Madison's who immediately figures out that Anna is an imposter.

Madison, on the other hand, discovers that the "simple life" isn't as relaxing as it sounded. Making up some ridiculous story about how she hit her head on the ice while skating and has forgotten a lot of basic Amish life skills, Madison has to learn how to do basic chores like cooking and washing dishes, as well as looking after half a dozen cousins. Thankfully, Anna's aunt and uncle don't seem to think that there's anything weird about "Anna" and are just thankful for the help while the aunt, Rachel, is nearing the end of her pregnancy. There are some really touching scenes between Madison and Rachel, who isn't popular in her community because she isn't the best homemaker and seems to be slacking in a lot of areas that other Amish women relish in. Madison - who has never had to wash her own dishes before, let alone bake a pie or change a diaper - admires Rachel and helps the other women in the community to appreciate her “aunt” and help her in the departments where she's lacking. There's also a little romance between Madison and a local boy who helps on the farm. It's not entirely necessary to the plot, but shows how teenagers can get carried away by their romantic daydreams.

I actually ended up preferring Madison's Amish adventures to Anna's search for her old boyfriend, mainly because I felt that Madison had more to learn from her experiences. Anna gets a bit of a shock when she meets Jacob and discovers that he really has become an Englisher, and it shakes her teenage fantasies about her and Jacob ending up together, despite him leaving their community. I'm sure every woman can remember a time when they thought a teenage crush would turn out to be the man of their dreams, so Anna's story is quite easy to relate to, if a little bit anticlimatic. On the other hand, Madison does what many Amish fanatics fantasise about - convert to the calmer way of life. But what is there that’s calm about cow stalls, outhouses and home births? Madison experiences a serious culture shock that causes her to rethink her “real” life, and make some changes when she returns to New York. Her experiences with Rachel's family are quite amusing, but I don't know whether I would have reacted any better in her place. While Anna's situation was more relatable, Madison's definitely made for a more entertaining read.

Despite my usual wariness of YA novels, Melody Carlson may have actually made a convert out of me. This is definitely a book that I'd want my teenage daughter to read, if I had one, and is one to pass on to those younger sisters and daughters who try to sneak a peek at your Beverly Lewis novel. Amusing and very true to life, Double Take is one for both teenage girls and the older Amish fans, particularly those who like to fantasise about living the simpler life.

Review title provided courtesy of Revell.

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