PIQUA — It was no April Fool’s Day joke. New York Times bestselling author Beverly Lewis visited the Piqua Public Library Friday evening as one of her 22 stops in Ohio promoting her new book “The Atonement,” a stand-alone novel set in Lancaster County. “The Atonement” was released earlier this week.
“We are so happy to have Ms. Lewis with us,” Jim Oda, director of the Piqua Public Library, said.
Lewis has written over 80 books. With nearly 20 million copies of her books in print, Lewis is most well-known for incorporating Anabaptist heritage and writing about Old Order Amish characters in her novels. She is often known as the “pioneer” for Amish fiction, particular with the release of her first adult novel “The Shunning” in 1997.
Lewis addressed the crowd — which quickly grew from 40 people to over 60 — warmly, like she was sitting down to have lunch with friends.
“What a great city, and what a great library,” Lewis said. Lewis remarked that the Piqua Public Library reminded her of the library in downtown Lancaster, Penn. She said she remembered the first time she visited that library when she was a little girl, feeling like she was on “hallowed ground.”
“I love libraries, and I love librarians, and I think I must have been a librarian in another life,” Lewis said.
In discussing her writing, Lewis explained that she has been writing almost her entire life.
“I’ve loved to write since I was nine years old,” Lewis said. Lewis added that she was a private writer growing up, hiding her journals at the bottom of her dresser drawer. Only her mother knew about them.
Lewis recounted growing up in Lancaster across from an Amish family along with Mennonites living around her. “It seemed like the Amish and the Mennonites … all the plain culture was surrounding me,” Lewis said, explaining that she and her family became friends with the Amish family across the road from them. Lewis wondered how they were able to hold onto their culture and traditions — taking care of the elderly, raising numerous children, treating each other “communally” — in the midst of the modern world.
“They’re so loving and caring … and yet they’re bombarded by the 20th century,” Lewis said. “I was often very curious about their belief system.”
In discussing her new book “The Atonement,” Lewis first addressed the cover of the book, which features a red pickup truck. Lewis said that when she first introduced the cover to her readers, she received “a flood of notes saying, ‘what is that about? Is that a mistake?’”
Lewis wanted the truck on the cover to be “a little eye catching,” and the truck represents one owned by one of her characters, Dale Wyeth.
In her novel, Wyeth has been reading the articles about the possibility of the national grid going down and becomes curious about if he could survive life without modern technology.
“He’s very curious about maybe (learning) how to live very independently without relying on the national grid,” Lewis said. “Could he survive on his own … like the Amish do?”
Wyeth reaches out to an Amish family to learn how to live off the grid, and in doing so, meets Lewis’ main character, 25-year-old Amish woman Lucy Flaud.
“She has been struggling with some things she’s done in the past,” Lewis said. “She is volunteering in every free moment she has, inside and outside of the Amish.”
In the book, Flaud’s sister Marty writes for the Amish circulation “The Budget.” In addition to marking down how many people showed up for church and what the communal meal was in “The Budget,” Marty also writes that an Englishman, or Dale Wyeth, has been spending time around her sister Lucy and questions whether or not their community can trust him.
“And boy, does that cause trouble between her and her dear sister Lucy,” Lewis said.
Overall, Lewis commented that people who are Amish are “a very fascinating people group.” Lewis has received letters from Amish readers and made friendships with people who are Amish who tell her, “You know, we’re just like you.”
Some of the letters she has received also ask the question, “What would you do if you were born a free spirit born into an Amish (family)?” Lewis said, “They’re torn. It’s hard.” Lewis also receives letters from Amish women who are devout and who look forward to taking that “lifelong vow” to be a part of the Amish church.
Lewis also mentioned her grandmother who was Amish and ex-communicated from the Amish church after she married Lewis’ grandfather. Lewis’ grandfather was studying to be minister and was not Amish.
“Her father wanted her to marry a farmer,” Lewis said about her grandmother. “She was basically booted out … She was a very courageous woman. She went through a lot to marry the man she loved.”
Lewis’ new book “The Atonement” is available online and in stores. Readmore’s Hallmark sold copies of “The Atonement” during Lewis’s talk and book signing Friday evening. Lewis also has another book called “The Wish” coming out in September.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall