Book Review: Growing Up Amish

Author: Ira Wagler

Publisher: Tyndale House, 2011

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

My Rating: B+

It’s my opinion that most of us who read books featuring the Amish are fascinated by the simple and wholesome life-style. While living in Indiana I passed their farms and buggies and shopped with them at quilt and fabric stores. I have no desire to turn them into caricatures, but I am curious about them.

I have thought about what it must be like for a child born into the Amish environment. That’s why I eagerly read this new piece of nonfiction, Growing Up Amish. I figured the Old Order Amish life must be filled with lots of negative rules. It is. Here are some:

  • Local transportation is by horse and buggy only. No cars allowed.
  • No electricity is allowed in the house or outbuildings.
  • Women must wear long, loose, hand-made dresses and keep their hair covered.
  • Men may not wear belts and married men must wear flowing beards, but no mustaches.
  • No phones in the house. Some groups allow a small phone “house” out on the road for emergencies.

I was feeling sympathy for the children. No Sesame Street or other educational TV, no bikes or video games or computers, i.e., things our children take for granted. But the author said his childhood was anything but boring. Actually, he talked of the ideal environment of being able to roam freely over the fields, in the woods, by the pond, and so forth.

It was not until young Ira Wagler was in fourth grade that he began to have problems. His tale of nasty bullying by the older boys brought lots of concern. Then in his early teens the preachers (and his dad) began to make new rules that made life even less enjoyable. For example, a favorite pass-time was playing volleyball. The games between boys and girls was forbidden. (They thought it would cause lustful thoughts.)

By the time the author was 17, he was ready to leave. But the problem was, if he left the Amish life and it’s religious environment, he must also leave behind his family. He wanted his freedom, but not at the expense of the people he loved.

This was an in-depth and emotional look at the Amish life-style. I felt my heart wrench many times for the author and his family and friends. He was very open and honest about his family and his situation. At times I wanted more from a female’s perspective, but of course, this was Ira Wagler’s story to tell.

It will change the way I think about the Amish and my thoughts while reading future Amish novels. The most positive thing I can say about my reaction to Growing Up Amish is that the Amish became human for me. Yes, from the outside their simple life looks idyllic, but they are not perfect. If you are a memoir fan, I suggest adding this one to your list.

Check your local library or your local bookstore for copies of this book. Growing Up Amishis also available at Amazon. (I am an Amazon Associate.)

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12 Responses to Book Review: Growing Up Amish

  1. Oh my, I love memoirs. I sometimes envy the simple lifestyle the Amish lead but know I would struggle without electricity. I so admired their reaction after the shooting at their school several years ago. I will have to look for this book.

  2. TheBookGirl says:

    My mom grew up in Lancaster County and when I was growing up, we would often visit her family there. We always went to farmer’s markets where the Amish sold meats and baked goods, and when we were traveling around, we would see the Amish in the horse and buggies. I have read a fair number of books on the Amish, but not a memoir — I would guess that that genre is not really in keeping with their lifestyle, and so somewhat unusual. I definitely am putting this on my list, thanks Margot.

  3. Shelley says:

    A few years ago I read Jodi Picoult’s novel about the Amish, Plain Truth, and enjoyed it very much. Although it was fiction, it appeared to be well researched.

    Thanks for your review of Growing up Amish. It might be interesting to see how the memoir compares to a factionalized account.

  4. Staci says:

    You really expressed the reality of their life so well, Margot. I think many of us feel that they have the best world because it is so simple, but as you read it is filled with challenges and harsh reality. I feel for Ira and many of those Amish that leave the community. It has to be horrible to know that you can not come back. I’ve watched a few documentaries on this and there are growing Ex-Amish communities throughout the mid-west.

  5. Mary says:

    This has been on my TBR list since I first read about it. There are many Amish families in the area of Wisconsin where I grew up – I really want to get this perspective. I’ve always been so intrigued by what I’ve observed. Moving it up the list. Great review.

  6. This sounds a bit like the book I just read on growing up Mennonite.

  7. Molly says:

    I have always been fascinated by the Amish – particularly since I went to college in Lancaster County, PA. And I am slowly becoming a fan of memoirs – so I think I will be adding this to my ever growing list of must reads.

  8. Tami says:

    Great review. I have always wondered about the “trend” of Amish books and why they are so popular and I think you put it perfectly – that many books (and readers) turn them into a “caricature”. This sounds like a fascinating inside look.

  9. kaye says:

    think you are right about wanting to step back and enjoy a simpler life-style. sounds like a good book.

  10. thank you for the review — I went to the Amazon link and ordered it! Have been fascinated by the culture since we spent some time in Amish country on another roadtrip.

  11. stacybuckeye says:

    ‘ But the problem was, if he left the Amish life and it’s religious environment, he must also leave behind his family. He wanted his freedom, but not at the expense of the people he loved.’
    This is what struck me the most about the fiction I just read about a Mormon sect. It was heartbreaking, the choice they must make.

  12. Danmark says:

    Captivating, emotional look into Amish life
    I always wondered what it would be like to be Amish, hoping that my profession as a writer might grant me an opportunity to live life–even just temporarily–among the Amish.

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