My grandma gave me an Amish fiction book in seventh grade. It was a strange book, but it was the book that started my passion for reading.
I doubt many people have found themselves wandering down the Amish fiction section at a bookstore, especially not with the intentions of eagerly taking a book home. As a seventh grader, an Amish book was what sparked my love for reading. Before that, I didn’t really like reading that much. The only reading I did outside of what was required for school was because my older sister made me read books she really liked. I didn’t have any favorite genres, I probably didn’t even have a favorite book, and I was definitely not looking to read Amish fiction.
My grandma really liked that genre, however. She gave me one of her books that she thought I would like, SummerHill Secrets by Beverly Lewis. It was an older one of hers, and it was thick, much longer than anything I had read before. I flipped to the back of the book to read the synopsis and found out it was a book containing 5 novellas about a girl who lived down the street from her Amish relatives. This was the last thing I wanted to read. I remember feeling embarrassed just holding it because I thought a book about Amish people was weird. No one my age would be reading stuff like that. But I knew my grandma would ask me about it, so I didn’t really have any choice but to just read it.
The first line of the book had me hooked: “A cry rang out in the darkness,” and to my surprise, I really enjoyed the novellas. I learned a thing or two about the Amish community, not that it really helped me much. It was interesting to know more about something that I really had no idea about. In fact, sympathizing with those characters gave me more respect for actual Amish people, since I had a biased opinion about their lifestyle.
I finished the entire thing within days. I even did my book report on it that year in school. Eventually, I found the second book at Borders and asked my grandma if she had it so I could borrow it. Each story had an interesting plot and had way more figurative language than the books I was used to reading. The author used vivid detail and imagery and I could picture every moment perfectly in my mind. I felt like I could relate to the protagonist, Merry, who was a high schooler going through struggles any teenager her age would understand. After only reading books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I was suddenly introduced to stories that I could enter into and find deeper meaning.
Reading Amish fiction was also a challenge for me. I was exposed to literature that, for the first time in my life, made me feel uncomfortable. There was one novella about the protagonist having feelings for her Amish friend who was technically her distant relative. That entire story was awkward to read. It made me question why I was reading this. There were a lot of parts that were just corny and almost embarrassing. I did get something important out of reading it, however. That uncomfortable feeling led me to think more critically about the book. For once, I was questioning the content instead of just reading what was in front of me. I thought about what I liked and what I would change. I started to pick up on the themes of the novellas, although I didn’t know quite grasp that concept yet. It was the beginning of my eagerness to learn and find meaning in literature.
No, it was not my favorite book of all time, and I will probably never read another book in this genre again. But it got me wondering if I was missing out because I wasn’t exploring new genres and topics. This book may have made me uncomfortable at times, but it was what initially started my love for reading and desire to really get something out for the books I read. I started to explore science fiction and discovered one of my favorite series. I read a graphic novel; I didn’t even know a comic could have so much depth. I read books with dark topics that were heartbreaking for me to read. I even started to read more nonfiction when I found a memoir that I loved.
With all the knowledge I gained from my curiosity of testing out new types of books, I encourage you to do the same. Try new genres. Read books that might make you feel uncomfortable. It will broaden your perspective and fine-tune your critical thinking skills. You may find that you really enjoy works of Amish fiction, or you might really hate magical realism. But from every book you read, you can obtain a deeper understanding and a stronger passion for reading. There is so much you can gain from being open to different types of literature.