DALLAS meets the Amish. That’s a four-word summary of the storyline in Beverly Lewis’ trilogy of novels about an idealistic Amish woman trying to find her way in the dangerous realm of the rich and powerful.
There’s no question: “Putting a bonnet on it” is a guaranteed sales strategy for novels and made-for-TV movies these days. Beverly Lewis has been pumping out dozens of Amish-themed, best-selling melodramas for two decades and is widely recognized as a queen in this genre. Lewis is a conservative Christian writer with family links to the Amish, although she is not Amish herself. Her stories always deliver inspirational messages.
KEY TO AMISH POPULARITY: ‘PUT A BONNET ON IT’
Want more stories about the popularity of the Amish?
VANNETTA CHAPMAN INTERVIEW: If Beverly Lewis is a queen of the overall Amish genre, Vanetta Chapman rapidly is becoming a top author of Amish murder mysteries. That’s quite a trick, given that Amish are pacifists. Read our interview with Vanetta Chapman for more.
A “REAL” AMISH AUTHOR: Currently, there are no observant Amish writers producing best sellers. Instead, we get books by friends of the Amish like Lewis and Chapman, authors who do care about the Amish and try to respect their culture. There are a handful of formerly observant “real” Amish authors, however. In our view, the best of those writers is Saloma Furlong, who we also featured in an author interview.
TOP SCHOLARS HELP SORT FACT FROM FICTION: Dr. Donald Kraybill is widely acknowledged as the leading scholar studying Amish life in America. He works with other top scholars in researching and reporting on these communities that decline to speak for themselves through the media. Saloma Furlong is one of the Amish writers who has been associated with Kraybill as a mentor. You’ll enjoy our interview with Dr. Donald Kraybill about his nonfiction book, The Amish Way.
THE NEW AMISH MOVIE: BEVERLY LEWIS’ ‘THE CONFESSION’
THE CONFESSION is the second major Hallmark made-for-TV movie in Beverly Lewis’ trilogy of novels about courageous Katie/Katherine Lapp. This brave young Amish woman leaves her Lancaster County Amish community and eventually unravels a series of mysteries that have twined around her life.
In 2011, Hallmark debuted Beverly Lewis’ The Shunning, Part 1 in the trilogy, which now is on DVD. In that first part, Katie reaches adulthood, hopes to marry a young Amish man she loves—until the young man tragically appears to drown and disappear. Instead, Katie’s family arranges a loveless marriage for her. She rebels, eventually pushing her out of the community. She is shunned.
The new Hallmark film, The Confession, debuts on May 11 and will be repeated at other times. Now, Katie is trying to connect with her biological mother, a very wealthy woman with a terminal illness who wants to bestow her huge estate to her long-lost daughter. If that last sentence sounds wildly unbelievable, just chalk that plot twist up to the Dallas influence in Lewis’ trilogy and simply enjoy the drama as it unfolds.
In the opening scenes, a friend warns Katie that she’d better stop being so “gullible.” Outside the Amish world, the friend tells Katie: People “are liars and thieves and the sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.” Cue the greedy schemers. Watch out Katie!
Can you watch The Confession without having read or seen The Shunning? Absolutely. In reviewing the new film, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I started with The Confession and, later, went backward to the first part. I enjoyed the new melodrama on its own. Going back to Part 1, however, I discovered that the cast has changed significantly between the first and second films. Katie/Katherine—currently played very effectively by Katie (yes, Katie) Leclerc—actually was portrayed by actress Danielle Panabaker in the first movie. Laura Mayfield-Benett, the wealthy biological mother, continues to be played by Sherry Stringfield in a grand style suited to this Dallas-style plot. However, her scoundrel husband, the evil Dylan Bennett, now is played with gusto by newcomer Adrian Paul. You’ll be hissing at him almost immediately.
For years, Lewis’ formula has been obvious: “Put a bonnet on it—and it’ll sell” is now a well-known marketing mantra. In shorthand, these novels often are called “Bonnet Books.” Nevertheless, romantic melodrama is fun. Dallas’ producers already have announced that a new season is coming in 2014. And, General Hospital just celebrated its 50th anniversary in prime time. This Hallmark drama also is gorgeous to watch and has an supporting cast of characters cut from the Downton Abbey mold
When you get a load of all the scheming among the rich and powerful—you’ll truly appreciate the simple wisdom of the Amish. And, in the end, that’s the real message behind all these bonnet tales.
Reviewed by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural diversity.