Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman

RumspringaAs seem to be on an Amish kick lately, I thought I would stop reading all those Beverly Lewis novels and actually read some nonfiction on this culture. In Rumspringa, though, Shachtman makes a claim that this culture, this religion is in fact a cult, and brings readers into the fold with his dissection of the Amish way of life with a heavy emphasis placed on rumspringa, an odd but time tested practice of allowing teenagers to experience all “worldly” things in order to bring them back into the “cult.”

The book covers a wide range of topics — from the Amish’s practice of removing their children from school after eighth grade to their belief doctrine to the suppression of women amongst the Amish to the use of illegal substances and underage drinking while in rumspringa — but the fluidity from one topic to another isn’t there. But what really carries this book is his interviews with Amish teenagers and the continuation of their stories in every chapter, and even then their stories are lost amidst his interviews with “worldly” doctors and psychologist about the effect of rumpsringa and Amish values, in general, on teens. I would have preferred for Shachtman to follow a handful of Amish teens through rumspringa rather than just giving me a small taste of their lives.

Towards the middle of the book I began to lose interest, and just wished for Shachtman to get on with it as Rumspringa is very repetitive. He adds too much of his own opinion and not enough about his subjects’ experiences. Rumspringa is very vague about the teens’ lives, and I would like to see “Devil’s Playground,” from which this book and its interviews were derived, in order to view more about this tradition.

Book Mentioned:

  • Shachtman, Tom. Rumspringa: To Be or Not to be Amish. New York: North Point, 2007. Print. 286 pgs. ISBN: 9780865477421. Source: Library.
Book Cover © North Point Press.
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One thought on “Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman

  1. I haven’t read this book or seen the movie. Last summer I saw a documentary on the Amish (Primetime Live maybe? I don’t remember) and I was intrigued by the Amish teenager who outfitted his carriage with speakers and he blasts heavy metal music when out for a ride. It was very interesting.

    –Anna

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