When I finished A Forbidden Rumspringa, I had certain ideas about what we’d see in the second book. We’d been told that the guys would go to San Francisco and immediately I was filled up with my own reaction to that city: adoration, freedom, bliss! I anticipated the boys arriving and being absolutely high on unadulterated freedom, joyful at seeing men holding hands or giving a casual smooch on the street, and blooming into the new, happier English world full of opportunities they’d never dreamed of. What Keira delivered was a much more powerful and much more realistic book.
Change is hard. There is a saying that the first year of marriage is the hardest. In my experience that is shockingly true. My husband and I had dated and half-lived together for ten years before we wed and still that first year was a massive challenge to our relationship. We had communication problems, misunderstandings and arguments about big stuff (“Which of these houses do you like better?”) and the most mundane things (what is the price threshold between “sure, you’re and adult who brings home a portion of the bacon, buy whatever you want” and “whoa! dude, you can’t just spend that much without asking me first!”.) We went through a similar round of challenges when our next big change came along: our daughter.
Now Isaac and David aren’t married in A Clean Break, but they may as well be. They’ve run off alone to a completely unfamiliar world where people literally don’t speak their language and they have to make real choices as a couple for the first time…and with still relatively few options. They don’t have birth certificates or social security numbers, so they can’t get jobs right away. They don’t understand how things work in this world, so it’s like navigating an alien planet. They have to make choices about things they didn’t even know to expect (boxers or briefs) and choices they totally never even imagined (do we want to “explore” with other people?). (For the scared few, the answer to that last was a resounding NO from both. No worries.) And everyone who can remember their first time visiting in a country that has entirely different language and culture must recall the extreme, exhausting stress of that. Some people react to that stress with a sense of adventure and others react by closing down, trying to get away from the overstimulation of too much unfamiliarity. I am more the first type while my husband is more the second. Maybe that gives me an even deeper appreciation for the realities this book showed about how different people cope with scary newness.
And that’s where we find these two Amish boys (not even grown men, really). It is realistic and deeply emotional to see David floundering in the deep waters of fear, culture shock, doubt, and insecurity while Isaac is so startled by the bright lights and adventure around him that he doesn’t notice. After growing up in a place where hiding his real feelings (gay attraction, doubt about his place in Zebulon) to protect himself and his family from being social outcasts, it makes sense that David would resort to using the same exact coping mechanism in San Fran. Because despite being “free” from Zebulon, he is still in extreme peril: he is completely and utterly dependent on the goodwill of his boyfriend’s brother (and thus on his boyfriend’s continued affection for him). He needs him for the very basics of life: food, shelter, warmth. And he needs Aaron to help negotiate a completely unfamiliar world that is full of danger: speeding cars, untrustworthy strangers, and, heck, untrustworthy friends, even.
So not-sticking-out, keeping his panic and feelings bottled up is the reaction that makes the most sense for David. And the fact that I, as a reader, had wanted to see him happy and free makes that part of the book a bit difficult but ultimately deeply powerful.
With a little empathy, I think we find this story to be a wonderfully wrought exploration of a fish-out-of-water: gasping, floundering, wide-eyed with terror he cannot express to the landlubbers around him.
Isaac’s story is told only through David’s point of view, but I have a feeling his experience was more like the one many readers were expecting. An ecstatic wallow in all the new shiny of the city. New experiences, new friends, new directions, and new purpose. Can we really blame David for thinking that if he confessed his fears to Isaac that he’d be holding Isaac back from his true self, just the way Zebulon had held them back from each other? Can we blame him for not wanting to be the new shackles on Isaac’s free soul?
I highly recommend this read and suggest going into it with suspended expectations and an open mind. Maybe David isn’t who you imagined him to be when you saw him only through Isaac’s love struck point of view, maybe he doesn’t react to the glory of San Fran the way you might want him to, and maybe that’s okay. Because by reading we discover deeper empathy for characters and each other. I walked away from this book with a sense of David’s struggle that helped me understand how people could go back to familiar situations that might not serve their truest self but where they know their place and how to live.
I’m anxious to see David and Isaac in Book Three, to see how these tensions get resolved. How can David change his stripes to be a man of adventure like Isaac? Or how can Isaac help David understand that his fear and struggle doesn’t have to hold either of them back if they can talk to each other about it? How will they face their families and will they be tempted to stay? How has the world changed them both?
So good! Such a thought-provoking presentation! And hooray for bucking expectations and giving us a slice of unexpected angst pie! Amish angst indeed!