11 March 2020

Book Review of Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl by Marian Longenecker Beaman

Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl
by Marian Longenecker Beaman 

Ms. Marian Beaman's memoir shares the heartwarming story of a spunky plain girl that longs to be fancy. She paints images with her words of the happiness and disappointments associated with growing up as a Mennonite in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Although I was aware of the Mennonites and some of the restrictions they place on their church members, the author's revelations were unexpected. Her vividly detailed portraits of people and places brought them to life. It was almost as if I was an invisible observer to the story as it unfolded. The included photographs, sketches, and recipes provide an added depth, which allows readers to see the life Ms. Beaman described.

Her family's devotion to their Mennonite faith was evident in all they did. Reading about the author's baptism when she was just ten years old surprised and shocked me. Everything changed from one day to the next for the young girl. The church's unyielding rules about attire, daily activities, and education dominated her life. The little girl who once wore frilly dresses her mother had sewn, suddenly had to put those clothes away.

Ms. Beaman also wrote about her father's old-fashioned punishments and abuses, like locking her up in a dank, dark cellar. It is not unheard of for an abusive parent to declare the use of scripture as a basis for said punishments/abuse. I could feel the author's anguish and heartbreak, and her deep-seated desire to know why these things were happening to her. It took guts to stand up to the church leaders and her father as a young woman. It took even more courage to open up and tell her side of the story. While writing about punishments and abuse, she also reflects on the caring nature of her home life. While she obviously respects and even admires her mother, she also wonders why her mother refused to intervene on her behalf.

The heartaches described in this book are palpable throughout. The girl that did so in school received little to no recognition or validation from her parents. Yet she was able to welcome the compassion she received from her paternal grandmother and her Aunt Ruthie. They provided her with balance and security - even if it was just for a short while. One might even say that she had two homes, and it was her second home that afforded the little girl with an escape from the day-to-day challenges.

Thankfully, the heavy moments of this book were sprinkled with some lighter ones like when Great Grandpa Sam’s glass eyeball pops out of its socket and rolls across the slick linoleum floor where it picked up speed. In the end, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl is a coming-of-age tale of a girl who ultimately finds her voice and individuality.  I highly recommend this memoir. Ms. Beaman is truly a master storyteller, and her unique narrative is filled with a sad family history but also traditions, laughter, and love.

Piper is the author of several non-fiction books, and recently added four historical fiction novels to her ever-expanding collection of published writings, In the Shadow of Her Majesty , The Country Girl EmpressA Life in the Shadow of the Crown, and The Perpetual Traveler. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebook, and Goodreads.
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