The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim

This review gives more insight than just "it was/wasn't a good book" or "this is/isn't a must read". While I try not to give too much away, sometimes it's difficult to write about the story and have it not be revealing.  

Unwed Rachel Stolzfus and her infant son, Eli, were forced to leave their Mennonite community in Copper Creek, Tennessee. The coercion was done by her brother-In–law, Bishop Tobias King. Rachel met up with Englisher Ida Mae Speck who offered her a place to live. With nowhere else to go Rachel took her up on the kind gesture. As the story continued Rachel found out Eli needed a bone marrow transplant, which meant the father of her child must be revealed. But Rachel swore to never tell his identity. While Rachel is the main character, there are more subplots and characters in this story that will get you so emotionally invested you won’t be able to put the book down.

I was pretty sure I knew who Eli’s father was before he was revealed. But there was a lot that happened that I didn’t see coming. The author has woven the characters’ lives together so well yet she also showed their individuality. Most of them have a secret or two that they are hiding. There are quite a few characters in this book. The story is slow moving enough, in a good way, that I got to know and remember each person easily as I read through the pages.

The story is told in first person by Rachel and the deceased bishop Amos king, the father of Tobias and Judah, the man who loves Rachel even though she doesn’t return his affections. Amos is up in heaven watching the entire goings on with Rachel and the others in the story. While I don’t believe it to be biblically accurate, it gives the book an interesting perspective.

I liked how Jolina Petersheim used such illustrative words. For example, she used “melon of a stomach” for Rachel’s pregnant belly. When Rachel was watching her friend get mad she was “watching heat creep up the ladder of Ida Mae’s neck”.

The Outcast shows the results of sin. It stretches out its tentacles and affects more than one person. The author writes about many issues: adultery, lying, gossip, suicide, being prideful, dysfunctional family relations, favoritism, and selfishness. She does a good job showing how people can destroy themselves and those around them with these issues. She also shows us how to live the way God intended for us by offering love and forgiveness to those who hurt us with those negative behaviors.

I feel this book would be unsuitable for younger readers. I wouldn’t want my tween reading this. While I couldn’t put it down, it had many parts that are not uplifting. This is definitely not a light read and has adult themes to it. I hate to label it as dark but it tackles heavy issues, The Outcast is not your typical Mennonite/Amish story.

I sadly haven’t read The Scarlet Letter, which this book is based upon. I can’t tell you if it’s anything like the original story. But I can tell you that Jolina Petersheim creates a cast of characters and situations that are believable, apart from the dead narrator. The story is a work about how family relationships can make or break a person. Most of the characters in this story are broken. But once they came to God there was restoration, forgiveness, hope, and love that wasn’t there before.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale and The Christian Manifesto in exchange for my honest review.

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