Anything but Plain (Book Review)

  • Author: Suzanne Woods Fisher
  • Publisher: Revell
  • Available Now
  • Synopsis: As the bishop’s daughter, Lydie Stolzfus consistently fails to meet others’ expectations of her. She hates disappointing her family members and community, but most dreads hurting Nathan Yoder, her neighbor and best friend.
  • Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions conveyed are my own.

Scripture Connection

…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you…

1 Thess. 4:11

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Phil. 4:6-7

Spiritual Themes

Through the farm-based subplot, the author also ruminates on the importance of “walking the beans,” a metaphor for taking stock of one’s life. She emphasizes living in the moment, as well as filling our minds with praise, rather than worry. This, is a powerful, important message that I really benefitted from.

Woods Fisher highlights the importance of stewarding the earth well, as the narrative follows a young farmer who is trying to go pesticide-free. The character, Nathan Yoder, encounters a good deal of opposition, in his efforts to do so.

What I Liked

Suzanne Woods Fisher is my favorite author for Amish fiction, not only because of the fun stories, but because the Lord usually uses her books to speak to me. Anything but Plain was no exception. At one point in the story, one of the characters describes another character as “convicting him, but without the sting” (p. 124). And that’s how the Lord speaks to me through Woods Fisher’s books. The message is sweet and gentle, but moving.

Many of the author’s books are set in the same community of Stoney Ridge. In fact, all of the books I’ve read by her, thus far, take place in this setting. This makes me so happy, because it really fleshes out the characters, so that they feel like friends to me. Rather than getting to know a handful of people through the course of a single book, or even a series, I have the opportunity to deepen my “relationships” with them as they continue to emerge in the newer books. Even those characters with smaller roles have become familiar. Take Hank Lapp. I haven’t read a book where he’s one of the protagonists, but whenever I see a string of capitalized words, I know he’s entered the scene. (In fact, I think that’s how I recognized that I was reading about the same Stoney Ridge community, last year when I read A Season on the Wind).

The farming emphasis is delightful and, as my mom pointed out while we were reading together, has a bit of a permaculture bent. It’s so neat to see a Christian author emphasizing stewardship, and the importance of allowing the land God has given us to thrive.

I found Lydie to be a very relatable character, to the extent that I wondered if I share her unique gifting (I am undiagnosed but fairly certain that I’m on the autistic spectrum; however, this is not what the book discusses). With that said, Woods Fisher does include an Author’s Note in which she discusses distractedness, in general. As is clear in the note and through the book itself, people, in general can benefit from the message of the novel.

And that message is both meaningful and practical. I really appreciate that Woods Fisher, rather than simply mentioning sweeping principles, provides specific, tangible strategies. These are very helpful suggestions (and some of them are a lot like the ones my mom, who taught special ed, had suggested for me, over the years). For instance, one of the characters encourages Lydie to write down all of her activities. The Lord had put it on my mom’s heart, and she encouraged me to write things down, even before we thought I was autistic.

Also regarding the novel’s message, Woods Fisher does a fantastic job of crafting a robust, moving message that permeates throughout the novel. We don’t just see a few lines scattered here and there. Instead, it’s apparent that the entire plot comes together around the same ideas, as the narrative gently drives the point home. And it’s beautiful and refreshing, a blessing and encouragement to me. I praise God for how He has gifted this author to relay words of truth.

Content Notes

There’s a line or so about a character being “empty” without the other character. Overall, though, there’s a HUGE emphasis on relationship with God.

From the doctor, we see a lot of emphasis on the importance of characters being diagnosed, as if this is the only way a person can effectively understand their unique way of thinking. As my mom pointed out, the Lord can speak to people without them having a diagnosis.

Recommendation Status

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy Amish fiction. Suzanne Woods Fisher is my favorite author in the genre, and I so appreciate how the Lord ministers to me through the gentle encouragement in her books.

Published by Stephanie Agnes-Crockett

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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