Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thrill of the Chaste by Valerie Weaver-Zercher

Thrill of the Chaste by Valerie Weaver-Zercher

Browse the inspirational fiction section of your local bookstore, and you will likely find cover after cover depicting virtuous young women cloaked in modest dresses and wearing a pensive or playful expression. They hover innocently above sun-drenched pastures or rustic country lanes, often with a horse-drawn buggy in the background—or the occasional brawny stranger. Romance novels with Amish protagonists, such as the best-selling trailblazer The Shunning by Beverly Lewis, are becoming increasingly popular with a largely evangelical female audience. Thrill of the Chaste is the first book to analyze this growing trend in romance fiction and to place it into the context of contemporary literature, religion, and popular culture.

Valerie Weaver-Zercher combines research and interviews with devoted readers, publishers, and authors to produce a lively and provocative examination of the Amish romance novel. She discusses strategies that literary agents and booksellers use to drive the genre’s popularity. By asking questions about authenticity, cultural appropriation, and commodification, Thrill of the Chaste also considers Amish fiction’s effects on Amish and non-Amish audiences alike. (blurb from Goodreads)

Rating: PG, 4 1/2 stars
Trigger warnings: none

As an Ohioan, Amish fiction is something I can’t avoid. I grew up about an hour away from Amish country, and so Amish novels were everywhere--stores, the library, even the occasional Amish-owned or Amish-style restaurant. While I’ve never actually read any Amish fiction, I have many Amish books on my to-read list, just because I think it’s an experience I should have at least once in my life. Anyway, when I saw that there was a book which analyzed the popularity of the genre, I knew that I had to read it, and Thrill of the Chaste didn’t disappoint.

I found this book absolutely fascinating. I never felt lost, despite my lack of first-hand experience with the genre and with the principles of evangelical Christian fiction. I really appreciated the author’s interviews with actual Amish people, and I found their varied perspectives of the presence of Amish fiction to be really interesting. I also found that I learned a lot about how varied Amish communities are, and the number of Amish people in the US is much larger than I had initially thought (a good thing, in my opinion).

Overall, I think this book is an excellent critical introduction to the phenomenon of Amish romance novels. Fans of the genre may find it a little too skeptical of the books for their taste, but those unfamiliar to the genre are likely to learn a lot of interesting information and may find it all fascinating enough to pick up an Amish romance for themselves. I would be really interested in seeing similar books for other new subgenres.

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