When I first heard about The Secrets Beneath by Kathleen Fuller I was pretty excited. It’s about an Amish girl who sees a man digging in the yard of the house next door and tries to find out what is going on. There were three reasons I thought I would like the book. One, it’s about the Amish. I love the Amish. I even wrote a research paper on them in college. Two, it’s a mystery. Mysteries are totally fun and intriguing. Three, it’s “juvenile fiction” (a term only Christian publishers use. I figure it was middle grade – late elementary). I love middle grade to young adult books. It’s what I mostly read. I was ready for a fun read.
I was sorely disappointed. The Amish-ness of the book was lacking. Instead of giving us a peek into the rich culture of the Amish, Fuller portrayed them as slightly old fashioned, up-tight and conservative people. There is so much more to Amish culture that she could have shown us but didn’t. Then there was the issue of the mystery. It wasn’t intriguing. I honestly didn’t care what was going on at the house next door. The suspense wasn’t there. There was more suspense about if the main character’s mother was going to give her a scolding than what was buried next door.
Then there’s the issue of the writing. Mainly it came down to the fact that the author did way too much telling and not enough showing (which is the cardinal no-no of fiction writing). Here’s an example of what I mean. “Bekah wasn’t surprised that her mother would offer hospitality. That was the Amish way.” If I wanted to have someone tell me directly what the “Amish way” is, I’d read a textbook on the Amish. This is a novel, so I should be able to glean what goes on in Amish communities by seeing it happen, not by the narrator pointing it out to me. The problem isn’t just that it’s written for children. There are plenty of children’s authors that do a fine job of bringing out themes and even information in a creative way.
All in all, this book had real potential, but it didn’t reach it. If you’re looking for a fun way to read about the Amish or introduce your children to Amish culture and good books, look elsewhere.
I was sent a complimentary copy of this book to review for Thomas Nelson.