Nonfiction — print. HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. 190 pgs. Library copy.
The fifth of seven children, Ruth Irene Garrett was raised in the strict Old Order Amish community of Kalona, Iowa whose dress, buggies, codes of conduct, and way of life differed even from other Amish societies only 100 miles away. Her community avoided interaction with everyone who lived on the outside but when Irene becomes dissatisfied with her life (and falls in love with an English man), she decides to leave her family, faith and the sheltered world of her childhood.
It might have been the fact that I had just finished a memoir about a fundamentalist Mormon sect, but I found quite a few similarities between the FLDS and Garrett’s Old Order Amish community — avoidance of outsiders, belief they are God’s chosen people and are the only ones with the chance of salvation (which explains why the Amish do not actively convert people), patriarchal, attempts to guilt wayward members into rejoining the church, massive poverty, attempts to keep members ignorant of what the Bible actually says, etc.
Garrett’s life certainly wasn’t like the lives of the Amish girls in all those fictional novels I’ve been reading, and I found this book to be very interesting in that regard even if Garrett says she can only comment on her own community because no two communities are alike. (So much so that the Old Order Amish of Kalona apparently do not interact or truly accept other Old Order Amish communities into their fold.)
The truly sad part about this novel is that Garrett lost her family to her decisions to leave the community. She found love and religion in the English world, but her family will be forever closed off from her. Her negativity permeates the pages, but if what she says is true I don’t know how you couldn’t be negative about the way you grew up. While the writing is simple and definitely from an amateur, it fits the book well. Crossing Over offers a rare, first-hand account of this secret religious group who do not trust the English (also known as all non-Amish), and paints a fascinating portrayal.