Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish

Tom Shachtman, Author . FSG/North Point $24 (286p) ISBN 978-0-86547-687-5

A teenage Amish girl sits in her buggy, one hand dangling a cigarette while the other holds a cellphone in which she is loudly chatting away. This girl, like many Amish teens 16 and older, is in a period called rumspringa, when the strict rules of community life are temporarily lifted while an adolescent chooses whether to be baptized into the church and abide fully by its laws. Shachtman, a documentarian who began studying this phenomenon for the film The Devil's Playground , is a sensitive and nimble chronicler of Amish teens, devoting ample space to allowing them to tell their stories in their own words. And their stories are fascinating, from the wild ones who engage in weekend-long parties, complete with hard drugs and sexual promiscuity, to the more sedate and pious teens who prefer to engage in careful courtship rituals under the bemused eyes of adult Amish chaperones. Shachtman's tone is by turns admiring—of the work ethic, strong families and religious faith that undergird Amish life—and critical, especially of the sect's treatment of women and its suspicion of education beyond the eighth grade. Throughout, Shachtman uses the Amish rumspringa experience as a foil for understanding American adolescence and identity formation in general, and also contextualizes rumspringa throughout the rapidly growing and changing Amish world. This is not only one of the most absorbing books ever written about the Plain People but a perceptive snapshot of the larger culture in which they live and move. (June)

Reviewed on: 03/13/2006
Release date: 01/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 286 pages - 978-0-86547-742-1
Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-4668-0513-2
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