Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Holmes County, Ohio. The Sierra Madre of northeastern Mexico. Which one of these places does not belong in a list of settings for Amish stories? The answer is: they all belong!
Paradise Valley by Dale Cramer is a fictional story (although with some basis in fact) of a small group of Amish people who moved from Ohio to Mexico in the early 1920s. Caleb Bender was one of five Amish fathers briefly jailed for refusing to obey Ohio's new law requiring all children to attend public schools. To be released from jail and to have their children returned to their families from a state-run home, the men had to agree to send their children to the local school. After some time of struggling with the issue of how to honor his promise to abide by the law and living true to his own convictions, Caleb found a small pamphlet that appeared to provide a solution: "Paradise Valley -- five thousand acres of prime, flat, fertile farmland nestled in the Sierra Madre of northeastern Mexico . . . ten dollars an acre." Others in the community became interested in the potential, but they all shared concerns about making such a move with no one having any firsthand knowledge of what they would encounter in the wilds of Mexico. It was finally decided that Caleb and his family would be the trailblazers, moving ahead of the others and reporting back home so their friends could decide whether to follow.
Dale Cramer is the great-grandson of one of the leaders of a group of Amish who made such a trek from Ohio to Mexico. He weaves together a real historical context and some very "real" fictional characters into an excellent story of faith and struggle among Amish families. Although it was very different from the Amish stories I usually read, I enjoyed this book and look forward to future installments in The Daughters of Caleb Bender series.
(For the purpose of review, I was provided a free copy of this book by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. The views expressed, however, are my own opinions.)