One minute, Joanna Schrock was arguing with her parents, and the next, her parents’ lives were claimed in a hit-and-run buggy accident. Her body is broken, but her heart is in even deeper pain— after all, how do you cope with your parents’ deaths when your last words were spoken in anger? After an extended stint in a physical rehabilitation center, Joanna re-enters her Amish life. But nothing is the same—not even her feelings for Andrew Beiler. Joanna has loved Andrew since the age of twelve, and her feelings have not changed throughout the years. She is thrilled when Andrew wants to get married, but she wonders whether it’s love he’s feeling, or pity. As the couple’s wedding date approaches, Joanna isn’t overcome with the deep joy she was hoping to feel; instead, she’s wracked with anxiety and guilt. Joanna hears God whispering to her, Be strong and courageous, but she’s afraid that courage looks a lot like walking away from her dreams....If Joanna takes the first step toward healing, will it cost her everything she’s ever wanted? Or could God be changing the desires of her heart?
Joanna Schrock has been pining away for Andrew Beiler since she was 12 years old. Now 20, Joanna is surprised but ecstatic to find herself actually dating Andrew... finally! In fact, one evening at a social gathering -- though she and Andrew have only been a couple for 2 months -- she decides to just go for it and ask Andrew to marry her. Stunned, Andrew asks for time to think it over. The next day, Joanna is riding in a buggy with her parents, trying to argue her case for being old enough to marry. Her parents think she is too innocent and naive of heart to be prepared just yet for what marriage will mean. In the heat of the discussion, Joanna's father does not see the oncoming vehicle until it is too late. Joanna's parents are killed on impact. Though Joanna survives, she does suffer a shattered pelvic bone, requiring intensive physical therapy to heal.
Realizing how close he came to losing her, Andrew comes to Joanna with his own marriage proposal. She accepts but soon after starts to question her decision. What if he's not asking out of love but pity? What if her full recovery takes months, years, or doesn't come at all? Can she allow herself to be THAT dependent on someone, when all her life she's been raised to carry her own through life? Joanna allows her sisters to go forward with the wedding plans, but as that monumental day approaches, she becomes less and less sure of her ability to follow through. She knows for certain that she loves Andrew -- always has, always will --- but is that enough?
It was just a few months back that I was sent a copy of A Reluctant Bride, the first book in this series, for review. Not so long ago, but then again, since it has been a few months I had forgotten a number of the primary characters within this community. So when I started in on An Unbroken Heart, I was a little confused because it sounded SO similar to the first book. Am I missing something? Did Fuller pull the trick of rehashing the same book from a different angle to get another book out there? Well, yes and no.
What Fuller does with this second book is place it around the same time frame as the first book, but now we see the events from Joanna's point of view. Reading An Unbroken Heart brought back to mind scenes from A Reluctant Bride, when Sadie (Joanna's older sister) tells Adan about needing time to visit her sister in the hospital. In this second book, we are given more details about the crash that took the lives of the Schrock sisters' parents, altering the order of their lives forever. We get more details about Joanna's home recovery after the wreck, which is where the bulk of her and Andrew's story plays out. The reader is also given small updates on the life of Sol, the troublemaker / troubled soul from Book 1. The story of the Schrock girls is broken up with periodic chapters looking into the life of the non-Amish man who caused the wreck. So while this book looks over the same events as Book 1, I found Joanna's perspective fresh enough to keep it from being a boring, lazy rehash. I appreciated that enough new details are introduced that it has a layering effect to the series as a whole, rather than leaving the reader with only a "yeah, we know!!" feeling at the end.
That being said, I don't think I liked this book quite as much as the first. I liked getting to know the sisters better in this book, their interactions brought a definite sweetness and warmth to the story. I also give props to Fuller for illustrating Joanna's healing process in a believable way, as far as showing the conflicting emotions that come with coming back home after a major injury, the struggle to find one's place again after a long stint away, the nightmares that can plague someone after trauma, etc. But I just didn't find Joanna's personal story quite as interesting as her sister Sadie's in the first book. I felt like there was a more nuanced relationship between Sadie and Adan, while Joanna and Andrew still seemed very child-like in their emotions. Though I will admit, this book does close on a pretty cute scene between J & A :-)
I also had a few hang-ups with the plot development. When it came to some of the characters and their individual problems, the resolutions to some of those problems struck me as just a little too convenient, coming about a little too quickly or easily to be believable. I was also a little confused by the introduction of the character Asa. Fuller writes him in but only barely gets into his backstory before the story closes so I was left wondering why he was there? All I can think is that the third book to this series is scheduled to be released this September, so maybe his story will unfold more there.
Note To Readers: This being the second book in Fuller's Amish of Birch Creek series -- while Fuller does write it in a way that one can read it as a stand-alone (in this book, she writes in enough details from the first book to generally catch you up to speed), I personally would recommend reading the first book. There are a number of little details from that first book that are quietly referenced in this one, so between the two the story will make much more sense when read in sequence ... that layering business I was talking about earlier ;-)
FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.