Dale Cramer is renowned for his storytelling abilities. He proved this in novels such as Bad Ground, Levi's Will and Summer of Light. Now he has written his most adventurous story yet in Paradise Valley. This is the first in a trilogy of books based on the stories of Cramer's Amish heritage. The total series is titled The Daughters of Caleb Bender.
In this first book the focus is on Rachel, the ninth child out of eleven born to Caleb and Martha Bender. Caleb is an Amish farmer living in eastern Ohio and the time is 1922. The Amish live apart from their non-Amish neighbors and have their own strict way of doing things. One of the things they do not do is attend the public schools.
As this story begins the local government is trying to force Caleb, and the other Amish parents, to send their children to the public schools. This does not sit well with the Amish in general and with Caleb in particular. He looks for a way to get out from under this ruling and sees the answer in an ad for land for sell in Mexico. He signs his family up to buy acreage in Mexico and moves his family there.
This does not make Rachel happy. The fifteen year old has fond feelings for Jake, the son of another Amish farmer. Jake feels the same way about her but they are both too young to make these feelings known. Therefore when her family moves to Mexico, Rachel has to leave Jake behind and it nearly breaks her heart.
The rest of the book concerns the Bender family's first year in Mexico and what incidents and occurrences form their new way of life there. The main danger comes to them in the form of the Mexican bandits who roam the land. The Amish are pacifists and will not fight under any circumstances. Luckily, the Benders' hired hand Domingo is not bound by these rules.
They also must live in an area where there is little if any medical treatment. Two of Rachel's sisters are pregnant and have babies during this first year. Rachel finds herself pushed into being a midwife, a position for which she finds she is naturally talented.
Cramer is at his most warm hearted and compassionate as he relates this story of a family in a strange new world. He manages to make each character spring to life, each with his or her unique personality traits; but it is with Rachel that he excels the most. He looks inside this young girl's heart and relates her feelings and emotions with clarity and assurance.
This first novel in the trilogy is a setting up for what is yet to come, but readers will find it complete in its story. It doesn't feel or read like a preparation novel at all. The story is so intense and the adventure so compelling that readers will race through the book and then begrudge the ending coming so quickly.
Paradise Valley is Dale Cramer at his best. Read this first novel and then anticipate the rest of the story. If the next two books equal this first one it will be an amazing series indeed.
Paradise Valley is published by Bethany House. It contains 359 pages and sells for $14.99.