The Orchard

Image of The Orchard: A Vietnam War Homefront Amish Romance
Release Date: 
September 6, 2022
Bethany House Publishers
Reviewed by: 

Ellie Hosteller resides in a large Amish community in Lancaster County with her parents and her twin brother Evan. The family owns a huge orchard supplying apples and peaches to restaurants and which they sell at their farm stand along with homemade pies, jams, and preserves made from their produce. Ellie believes where she lives is the best place in the world and though she wishes it could one day be hers, the tradition is that property/businesses go to the son when the father retires.

It is 1970 and the war in Vietnam is raging. The Amish are peace lovers and can be exempt from joining the service. Evan had been very close to Jack, an English friend during his "rumspringa" enticed by the "Englischer" novelties of technology and the things he is not accustomed to.

When Jack gets killed in battle, Evan feels unjustly guilty and becomes more obsessed with joining the service without applying for the exemption his faith allows. All family members and those in the community are upset by his attitude and behavior and try everything in their power to make him perceive how he was raised.

Ellie discusses her concerns about Evan with Sol Bontrager, listed as a conscientious objector and a close friend to Evan. She hopes maybe he can talk some sense into Evan, but her brother is stubborn and bullheaded.

It seems not only is Evan attracted to the English way of life, but Jack's sister has caught his eye. With love at stake and empathy for Jack's death, Evan pushes ahead to accept his duty. Seeing his number in the draft is low, he is quickly inducted into the Army much to the family's distress.

Ellie faces a lot of changes and does not know how to deal with them. First, the biggest change is in Evan, then her best friend Leah decides to take a job as a nanny for a single English mom in another city. What will Ellie do? Evan and Leah are both her closest confidants, and now she considers she is completely alone. Though friends with her cousin Ruthanne, they are not as intimate as she is with Leah and Evan.

Trying not to let her feelings get the better of her and hoping to take her mind off of things, Ellie plunges herself into her work of harvesting and baking. She becomes fond of Menno  

Bontrager, a cousin to Sol, who is the most handsome and available single guy around, and she wonders if he will ever notice her. Meanwhile, Ruthanne is besotted by Sol Bontrager, Leah's sister. Before long the four go out on double dates that Ellie finds enjoyable.

Ellie writes to Leah constantly, disclosing her thoughts and feelings, and when Leah reports she'll be home soon, Ellie is happy. Still, the tension in Ellie's household is thick with worry about Evan. They are excited to get letters from him, but when he's shipped to Vietnam, the correspondence ceases and the anxiety at home becomes more intense.

Several members of the community start to ignore the Hostellers because of Evan's going against their ways. After a few dates with Menno, just when Ellie thinks there could be a relationship between them, he voices his negative opinion of Evan, which angers her and makes her decide she no longer wants to see him. Though she believes Evan was misguided when he left the "way" he is still her brother and she loves him deeply.

One day, the family is visited by government officials reporting Evan is missing in action. The only thing getting them through this nerve-wracking ordeal is their faith in God, and their prayers never cease. Then Sol is battered by several English young men who are angry because the Amish do not believe in fighting and are spared from entering the service. Ellie realizes violence is all over, and not only with the ongoing war. She ministers to Sol's wounds, and though they've been friends forever, a romance kindles.

All the while, the worry over Evan's missing status has them realizing how fragile life is, and all they can do is trust in their beliefs to find Evan alive. Ellie wonders if she'll ever be truly happy not knowing what happened to her twin. This novel demonstrates how the Amish also face problems and obstacles like others, yet their strong belief in family and the Lord sees them through and has them realize God is in control.