Publisher: Skywriter Books
Jacket Design: Holly Payne
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Page Count: 286
Benjamin Franklin Award 2010
Writer Digest Grand Prize Winner 2011 for Best Self Published Book
The story revolves around a young Amish boy growing to manhood, and facing the challenge of forgiving himself after a tragedy. No spoilers here; but… in Olde English, the prefix “for” (as in forgive) means, very simply, before. To for-give is to give as before. Not to give grudgingly, or agree to overlook, but to give.
Eli, the novel’s protagonist, must come to grips with the need to for-give, and discover what he truly needs to give. Hos journey to that place covers a decade, in which Eli goes out into the world, lives as a non-Amish person (“Rumspringa”), and sees in others, eventually, what he must do to give as before.
A neighbor girl, Emma, loves Eli, but he cannot see it, much less accept it, until he can forgive, and learn to love himself in all his human frailty.
Kingdom of Simplicity explores themes of guilt, forgiveness, and crime. It can be viewed equally as a crime novel, a coming-of-age novel, and a love story. The plot is essentially psychological; while there are many events, the essential driving elements are inside the protagonist’s head.
Some reviewers have felt the book is longer than it needs to be; while any book could be cut, Kingdom of Simplicity spends its length wisely in a larger exploration of the world of the protagonist, Eli, both internally and externally. Other characters, even “minor” ones, turn out to be pivotal in Eli’s journey.
The core of the novel’s grip on the reader is Eli’s secret shame, shame about two events – a theft committed when he was only seven, and a larger sin (in Amish eyes) committed when he was twelve. Eli lives with his guilt, silent, after the great tragedy that afflicts his family. Like all Amish children, at 16 he begins “Rumspringa” – the term for the permissive period when the Amish are permitted to ignore the tenets of their faith, to drink, smoke, drive cars, live in the city. etc. An Amish youth might do this for months, years, possibly even longer, before choosing to return to the fold – to rejoin the faith. Eli takes longer, and becomes involved in real crime. He befriends an older man, a Negro barber, who is in his own way as much an outcast as Eli. It is this man who has the role of the spirit guide, the voice of the other, the collective unconscious, and it is he he who present the central challenge to Eli: “Come back, when you can forgive.” Eli is doubly banished.
Kingdom of Simplicity can be seen as a crime novel, in that there are real and serious crimes to be solved – manslaughter, armed robbery, etc. It is not police-procedural, however, but more of a mystery. These crimes must be solved to resolve the plot, but the novel shows that the mere procedural resolution of the events is not enough to resolve the guilt in Eli’s mind.
It can also be seen as a Romance, in the truest sense of that term. It’s not a “bodice ripper” but rather an exploration of what we all must do in order to truly connect with, and be truly in love with, others.
But Kingdom of Simplicity is perhaps best seen as a coming-of-age novel that rises to true literary quality. It is engaging, even gripping for adults, yet also speaks to teens and young adults attempting to come to grips with the sins, small or large, that are part of being human
All life, at all times, is “modern” to those to whom it happens, and this is a novel, about Amish life, is for all time. Only a few stories have the ability to pull you in and make you neglect what you should be doing in order to spend more time reading, and Kingdom of Simplicity does that.
Information about the Author
Holly Payne says “she had no idea I would ever write books.” She grew up in rural Pennsylvania; when she discovered storytelling, everything changed. The act of writing planted the seed of a life-long passion – the need to connect with others through words. For Holly, storytelling has become a form of fellowship.
Kingdom of Simplicity should be used for teens and young adults to explore these themes:
- Survivor guilt – Eli is alone in avoiding a tragedy. How does he cope?
- Sinful guilt – Elis commits two serious sins. How can he atone and forgive?
- Choosing our “adult” persona – for non-Amish, there is not quite a “rumspringa” phase, but all teens go through periods of exploring different ways in which to be an adult. Often, such teens can lock themselves into one path, instead of seeing that there are options from which to sample, choose, and change one’s mind.
Reading Level/Interest Age