Author: Amy Clipston
Title: Reckless Heart
Publisher: Zondervan

Amy Clipston’s first YA novel tied to her best-selling Kauffman Amish Bakery Series finds 16-year-old Lydia Bontrager forced to grow up fast due to circumstances out of her control. Although Lydia’s story is set in rural Pennsylvania against the backdrop of Amish tradition, Clipston does a remarkable job of making the main character an ordinary, relatable and approachable young woman dealing with the same issues as every other teenager. Aimed at the young adult audience, Clipston molds her heroine into a “girl next door,” albeit in Amish country.

Clipston weaves Lydia’s story of struggle and ultimate success from a faith perspective while also educating the reader about Amish living. The native Pennsylvania Dutch dialect interspersed throughout the dialogue takes some getting used to, but the comprehensive glossary at the front of the book helps with the unfamiliar vernacular. The family tree at the beginning also assists in prioritizing the characters.

Although committed to Amish tradition, Lydia’s family is just like any other. When her baby sister falls ill with leukemia, Lydia is forced to assume a motherly role as her father takes on more responsibility at work and her mother stays at the hospital where her sister is receiving treatments. Meanwhile, a worried Lydia stays at home, tending to her other young siblings and the housework. She also holds down two jobs—one as a teacher’s assistant at the local one-room schoolhouse and another at her grandmother’s bakery. It’s a big responsibility for a young girl.

On the personal side, her heart is torn between three very different boys. Joshua is a friend she’s known since she was a child; and now their friendship is blossoming into romance. Tristan is the new English boy who moves in next door. He is amused by Lydia’s Amish life, so different from his own; although he is at first viewed as a bad influence on Lydia since he isn’t Amish. Bad boy Mahlon also tugs at the heartstrings as he makes it clear he likes Lydia on more than one occasion. He coerces her into taking her first drink of alcohol, a secret Lydia carries with her until she finally confesses her undisclosed night of drunkenness willingly to her parents in the end.

Clipston paints the picture of a girl wrestling with peer pressure but also maintaining a conscience and wanting to honor God and the Christian principles she’s grown up with. Lydia is far from rebellious, but her story proves even good girls can succumb to pressure and temptation.

At first glance, the story is predictable and light. However, beneath the surface, Clipston provides depth to Lydia’s emotions and the things she’s dealing with in this season of life. Lydia is learning how to take on more responsibility at home at a young age, yet struggles with a conflicting desire to remain a carefree teenager, all the while concerned about her sister’s life-threatening disease. She’s also wrestling hormonal emotions, as she’s torn by her feelings for long-time love interest Joshua and new, exciting next-door neighbor Tristan.

Moreover, she’s at a crossroads with her career. When the main teacher at the community school leaves after announcing her engagement, Lydia must choose between becoming the teacher at a school with the children she loves or following tradition and working full-time at the family bakery. Ultimately, she seeks God’s will for her career path and her relationships and chooses wisely.

Throughout the story, several of the characters employ their faith as a means of encouragement, but it’s Lydia’s grandmother who is portrayed as the strong spiritual matriarch of the family. She constantly uses Scripture to back up the lessons she tries to instill in Lydia and her other grandchildren.

All in all, Reckless Heart may be expected, but the underlying struggles are ones readers will identify with. Clipston has managed to add to her popular series with a thoughtful book inviting readers to think about the ways we handle vital moments of decision.