I winced when I saw the cover. I was sure this book would be another lightweight voyeuristic Hollywood look at the Amish.
Yet Shachtman seems to reserve judgment and present the Amish even-handedly throughout Rumspringa: To be or not to be Amish. He seems to have a heart for the kids involved, presenting their tales with compassion and respect.
At the same time, like a good documentarian, he largely avoids outright condemnation of the ‘other side’. Shachtman calls a spade a spade and gives the Amish culture its due, as when he points out the miniscule rates of divorce, unemployment, and substance abuse among Amish adults.
Rumspringa: To be or not to be Amish is not just an ‘Amish in the City’-like freakshow peek into these kids’ lives; Shachtman attempts to analyze the myriad issues at work in the mind of an adolescent during Rumspringa by examining the cultural aspects of the Amish.
He shows how things like shunning, the reverence held for farming as a traditional occupation, formal education (or rather, lack of it), faith issues and a number of other subjects all play into the typical Amish youth’s decision whether or not to join the church.
The voices of the kids and the concerned adults stand out above all…they could belong to any suburbanite mother-father-teen combination, as you listen to them voicing their concerns, moms worrying who their kids are running around with, teens trying to act ‘cool’ and fit in with peers.
I was pleasantly surprised by the work, and would recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about the background of the Amish as well. Shachtman seems to have gotten his facts right, relying alot on scholarly sources as well as his own observations and interviews–you can tell he’s done his homework.
In examining a touchy subject for the Amish, Shachtman chooses analysis over exposition, and readers gain as a result. A lot deeper than what it’s shock-value cover intimates, it’s a book worth checking out. And it is a page-turner–I knocked it out in three days.