Readers Are Hot for Amish Romance Novels

Pop Goes the Culture

By Bethany Larson

The Amish. These two words typically conjure images of a backwards people who speak a weird language, refuse to use electricity, ride around in horse-drawn carriages, and wear drab colors. But, lately those two words are making people think of something else — great love stories.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, novels about Amish romances are hot — but not in the sense that they make the reader want to rip their clothes off and hump someone. These novels, nicknamed “bonnet books” are flying off the shelves. But a book centered on Amish relationships seems anything but intriguing.

Surprisingly, a lot. Granted, these books are very tame — you’re lucky if the action goes beyond hand holding, and if the author wants to get controversial, there may be kissing! However, the real intrigue lies within the emotion behind the stories.

A non-Amish author conveys the feelings behind the story, set in an Amish Community with primarily Amish characters, but aimed at a non-Amish audience. The premise of these stories usually follows one of two formulas.

The first storyline follows a family of several daughters, the eldest of whom has done something salacious during Rumspringa (the time when Amish teenagers are allowed to do what they please before deciding whether to join or abandon the Amish Church and Community), has run away from home, or has died in a situation shrouded in mystery. Because of these actions, the other daughters are tainted because they come from a family who has spawned a rebel.

But of course, one of these daughters is sweet and beautiful and cooks really great food and has the best quilting stitch in the community. So, naturally, the most attractive guy in the Community, whose father happens to be the Church deacon (or preacher or bishop) falls in love with this unworthy girl. They date in secret by riding in a buggy, holding hands, and writing each other letters. And then the boy’s father finds out about the scandalous premarital heterosexual interdigitation and bans him from seeing her. So he marries some other girl, leaving the first girl devastated until she realizes that the guy who lives on the next farm over is just as good looking and loves her even though her sister was a tramp. They join the Church, get married, and have lots of babies.

The second formula follows an Amish girl who falls in love with someone who isn’t Amish. The girl has to decide whether or not to leave the Community. If she chooses to leave, she will never see her family again. In this premise, the guy normally decides to join the Church, they get married, and have lots of babies.

Although the stories tend to be formulaic, these “bonnet books” are a return to the romantic themes of Austen, Keats, and Blake. The characters are in love, not fucking around, reviving an old-school idea hardly showcased in this post Sex in the City era. And they do all of this without ever even mentioning sex. Progressive? Well, there are also no vampires, so yes.

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