Review: 'English River'

Iowa author navigates growing up Amish in new novel

In the third installment of Iowa author Thomas Nye’s YA Amish Horse series, “English River” Lenny has taken a semester off from college to stay and help out on his uncle’s horse farm. While before Lenny struggled to fit into the Amish world, now he is flourishing, confidently farming with his horses, working with elders, even cracking a few jokes in German.

When his uncle asks him to stay on and continue farming, Lenny is forced to make a decision: does he want to become Amish, or return to his English life? Complicating matters further is his love for Leah, a strong-willed Amish girl.

A good portion of Nye’s novel is dedicated to Lenny’s day-to-day pursuits on his uncle’s farm: picking corn and soybeans; weaning calves, catching piglets; as well as his internal struggle to stay or leave the Amish. These thoughtful passages slow English readers down to the Amish rhythm of life: a difficult adjustment at first, particularly since we English are so accustomed to a fast, flashy pace. But it’s refreshing to be slowed down and forced to really reflect with Lenny about larger issues of family, faith, and community. Nye not only takes us deep into the Amish world, he beautifully juxtaposes the Amish and English “time zones,” showcasing Lenny’s struggle in such a visceral way as to make it our own.

“English River” serves as a stand-alone novel, but it’s much more satisfying to follow Lenny and his family throughout the entire series. Nye wastes no time jumping into this third novel, and the lack of introductions to other characters could be jarring for new readers. Even still, it’s easy to simply follow Lenny and his dog Russell, his loyal sidekick, as they navigate the choppy waters of growing up and falling in love.



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