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GOODREADS SUMMARY: Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.
I don’t read a lot of YA. Sure, I’ve read Twilight like millions of others, and for the most part I enjoyed it. Then I read Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely and realized how truly wonderful YA could be. The few things I read after that didn’t meet expectations, so I don’t read a lot of YA. That is until I was given the opportunity to review Laura Bickle’s The Hallowed Ones. A paranormal story set in the Amish world? I couldn’t resist. And I am so glad I picked this one up. It is truly a wonderful dystopian tale that transcended the YA genre and pulled me in with a heroine that I adored and a world that went from calm to frightening in a blink of the eye.
The Hallowed Ones tells the story of Katie, a 17-year old Amish girl on the brink of adulthood, looking forward to her Rumspringa, the time when Amish youth go out into the wider world to experience it before deciding whether or not to permanently adopt the Amish faith and lifestyle. But a mysterious “Darkness” befalls the outside world, and Katie is forced to stay within the confines of her community and delay her much-anticipated plans for freedom and exploration. Through a series of events, the Outside starts creeping into Katie’s structured and safe Amish world. Not only is Katie forced to face frightening changes, but she must also deal with the changing relationships she has with her best friend and possible fiancé, Elijah, her parents, and her community. It is a story of conformity and rebellion, faith and doubt, love and death, youth and adulthood, all within a disturbing dystopian landscape.
“…I sensed that my time was measured. I wanted to wring every last experience out of it like juice from an orange, to feel, to touch, and to taste the juice as it ran down my chin. I did not want to lie down and wait for death like Ginger and the others, with their veil of ignorance drawn around them and surrendering their will to live to others.
I wanted my life to matter.
And I wanted to choose how it mattered.”
What drew me into this story was Katie. I loved her very real struggles, both within herself and with her loved ones. For the Amish, obedience is key. And while Katie is devout she can’t take the step towards blind obedience. She always questions and does what she feels is right, not what she is told is right. Katie battles with expectations, with being who she is versus what others think she should be. I also loved that while Katie struggled with some very adult issues, particularly when it came to her family and her faith, there was still something young about her. She collects Wonder Woman comics and drinks Coke, her first acts of rebellion. Bickle kept such a great balance with her that while you feel her maturity, her youth is never forgotten.
The brilliant thing about this book is setting it in the Amish community. It is so isolated that the Outside, for the most part, is kept outside. Katie figures out what is happening when she sneaks off into town for medicine. It’s there that she discovers what has become of the world. And what is out there waiting for them. There are hints of the horrors that make their way into the community but we never see it full force until something happens that shakes them to their core, and, even then, it feels like a piece of a larger horror that awaits them. This is fantastic because it keeps something at bay, builds anticipation, and makes you anxious to know what’s happened out there but too scared to want to see it. As Katie tries to warn her people of what is waiting, no one listens. They all blindly follow the Bishop who basically runs the town from a position of religious authority and refuses to acknowledge what is staring him in the face. Alex, an Outsider she takes in and nurses back to health, and the Hexenmeister, a religious mystic, are Katie’s only allies.
The isolated setting also puts focus on the relationships between the characters. It often was not the violence of the Outside that was disturbing but the reactions of the people Katie has known all her life that were unsettling. From the Bishop to Elijah, those she trusted became just as frightening as the shadows. The threat of exile and therefore certain death for Katie were always on the edge of my mind towards the end of the book. I’ve also never read a scene where the destruction of a cell phone seemed like the ultimate in cruelty.
Towards the end, this book was tense. Really tense. I raced through the last few chapters. There was a bit of a twist which, honestly, I saw coming well before the reveal but it still created a creepy scene, reminiscent of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. There was also an unanswered question for me – Alex’s explanation for what happened to the world is scientific and medical, but the short-term solution, and the one protection from the horror, is wholly faith based. Katie asks how and why this is and so do I. But I guess I just have to wait until the sequel…which is going on my auto-buy list. This is a highly recommended read. Oh, and I am totally going to read more YA now.