{Book Review:} The Outcast

{Book Review:} The Outcast

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently found several great ways to get and read books – for free – and one of those is joining up with publishers to review books. Today’s post is my first book review.

The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim — a retelling of the Scarlet Letter – takes the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic and re-imagines it in the modern-day setting of an Old Order Mennonite community. The story unfolds through the voices of dual narrators — Rachel, the unwed, young mother, and Amos, the deceased father of Rachel’s brother-in-law.

Rachel refuses to name the partner in her sin, but most discerning readers will almost immediately suspect who the father is – which was a bit of a disappointment to me, who wished the identity of the father would have been handled with a lighter hand, so we could have had that mystery to relish for a bit longer.

outcast 2

The story’s central tension revolves around Rachel and her twin sister, Leah – as well as Leah’s husband, Tobias, who obviously holds Rachel in great disdain, and Tobias’ younger brother, Judah, who’s been in love with Rachel since they played together as children. As Rachel leaves the community that’s shunned her, she makes her way in the outside world, forming new connections and friendships outside cloistered Copper Creek, but she also finds out that the life of her son, Eli, is in danger.

So, here’s what I liked about the book:

• It was an easy, summer read – a beach book. I realize that the subject matter is “heavy,” but the writing style was light.

• I liked the whole idea of re-thinking the Scarlet Letter in a modern-day Mennonite community. I thought that was perfectly suited to the classic’s storyline, and I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes perspective. {As someone who grew up on a farm bought from an Amish family and lived in a community that included a small Amish population, I do have a personal interest in the Amish and Mennonites I remembered – not as curiosities to stare at, but as everyday people who were my friends and neighbors – growing up.}

• The longer the book went on, I thought the author really found her groove and showed the use of rich, descriptive language.

outcast 3{{Above, you can see the results of a little mishap with some coffee!}}

Here’s what I didn’t like:

• The book was very confusing at the beginning, and for some readers, they wouldn’t get past that and keep reading. Let me give you an example. The book opens at a funeral and is narrated by Rachel. By the third paragraph, though, we are already in a flashback in Rachel’s mind, taking us back to her childhood days. This flashback lasts about two pages until we go to another flashback – one where Rachel’s mom comes to Rachel when she is disgraced. Then, that turns into a musing of when Leah got married, during yet another timeframe. Then, by the ninth page, we are in the company of the book’s second narrator, Amos, that man whose funeral the book opened with. Confused yet? I was.

• I was never really sold on Amos {Rachel’s brother-in-law’s father} as the second narrator. I understand that he provided an interesting viewpoint, but that viewpoint could have been achieved by a third-person narrative, which wouldn’t have seemed so forced.

• As I mentioned earlier, I felt the father of Rachel’s child was too obvious too soon. Perhaps that was the author’s intent, but I would have preferred a bit of mystery to entice me to keep reading. There were several other plot twists that occurred later in the book, and I appreciated those, but the paternity question could have sustained the momentum of the early part of the book better.

So, the bottom line:

Would I buy a copy of this book? No.
Would I check it out from the library? Yes.
Would I recommend it to a friend? Depends. {It would be a no for my more literary friends.}

Fun fact: My dad was at my house babysitting one evening, and the rest of us were gone for about five hours. This book had just arrived in the mail and was sitting on the coffee table. He read most of it that night, and finished it up the next morning!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes from Tyndale House.

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  1. Thank you for the wonderful review, Elizabeth! I cannot believe this is your first! You did a great job! 🙂

  2. I agree with Jolina, excellent job of reviewing this book! The book does sound interesting…and a bit confusing. I like that the author’s writing developed with the book. I imagine that’s what happens sometimes. You get in your groove. Thanks Elizabeth…now that you’ve found a way to get books easily for review, come over to CirclesOfFaith.org and share a review! We’d love to have you.
    Elise Daly Parker recently posted..Worshipping with Phil WickhamMy Profile

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