Friday, February 05, 2010

Book Review: "Katy's New World" by Kim Vogel Sawyer

When Katy Lambright is given the opportunity to attend a secular high school outside her Mennonite community, she is ecstatic. But as Katy begins to adjust to life outside her community and begins to make decisions for herself, her relationships with her family and lifelong friends become strained. Can Katy balance her new world with the Old Order?

Ok first before we even start, I need to mention this is NOT a book about the Amish. Yes I know the girl on the front looks Amish, but she is not. She is Mennonite which, while similar, is quite different in what they believe and how they act.

This book is quite unique because for the first time (that I can remember) a teen character who normally shuns the outside way of life choosing to live in that life. Katy is from a strict Mennonite family but is allowed to pursue her dream of higher education by attending the public high school in her area. I found this to be quite interesting as normally most characters who come from strict lifestyle usually give up and return home by the end of the first book. The story doesn't mention which sect Katy's family is in but from what I gathered in the book they appear to be quite conservative than most other Mennonites. Other books I've read that features Mennonite vs. Amish shows the Mennonites as being practically English other than their dress and what they believe. In this book, it's mentioned that Katy's dad has a truck but other than that I didn't really see what made them different from the Amish other than actual religious beliefs.

What makes this book stand out for me was the fact that Katy was NOT portrayed a goody two shoes. Even though she almost always obeys her father and abides by the rules of her community, she does not act passive and reject every unknown idea. For the most part, Katy asks like a regular teen and shows that even though she will always be different there are parts of her that just wants to fit in. Also even if she can't say things because she knows that she would get in trouble, her thoughts are a different matter which really make things more realistic. Basically the story allows Katy to be both Mennonite and a normal teen and shows equal balance without upsetting either party.

I felt like this book was targeted at younger teens but older teens will enjoy it as well. I think this book was more of an introduction to the characters as well as Katy getting a first taste of the outside world. Perhaps in future books she'll be faced with more difficult challenges that everyday teens face. It will be interesting to see what her Mennonite perspective will be. I will also find it interesting as to what will happens when tougher school subjects are introduced, like using computer research at home or if we get to the point of Katy graduating and what will happen next. As it stands, I have great hopes for this series and am looking forward to future books.

Katy's New World by Kim Vogel Sawyer is published by Zondervan (2010)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with FIRST Wild Card Tours

Read the first chapter below


Like wisps of smoke that upward flee,
Disappearing on the breeze,
Days dissolving one by one . . .
Time stands still for no one.

Katy Lambright stared at the neatly written lines in her journal and crinkled her brow so tightly her forehead hurt. She rubbed the knot between her eyebrows with her fingertip. What was wrong? Ah, yes. Two uses of “one” on the final lines. She stared harder, tapping her temple with the eraser end of her pencil. What would be a better ending?

She whispered, “Time’s as fleeting as the —”

“Katy-girl?”

Just like the poem stated, her thought dissipated like a wisp of smoke. Dropping her pencil onto the journal page, she smacked the book closed and dashed to the top of the stairs. “What?”

Dad stood at the bottom with his hand on the square newel post, looking up. “It’s seven fifteen. You’ll miss your bus if we don’t get going.”
Katy’s stomach turned a rapid somersault. Maybe she shouldn’t have fixed those rich banana-pecan pancakes for breakfast. But she’d wanted Dad to have a special breakfast this morning. It was a big day for him. And for her. Mostly for her. “I’ll be right down.”

She grabbed her sweater from the peg behind her bedroom door. No doubt today would be like any other late-August day —unbearably hot —but the high school was air conditioned. She might get cold. So she quickly folded the made-by-Gramma sweater into a rough bundle and pushed it into the belly of the backpack waiting in the little nook at the head of the stairs.

The bold pink backpack presented a stark contrast to her simple sky blue dress. A smile tugged at the corners of her lips, while at the same time a twinge of uncertainty wiggled its way through her stomach. She’d never used a backpack before. Annika Gehring, her best friend since forever, had helped her pack it with notebooks and pencils and a brand-new protractor—all the things listed on the supply sheet from the high school in Salina. They had giggled while organizing the bag, making use of each of its many pockets.

Katy sighed. A part of her wished that Annika was coming to high school and part of her was glad to be going alone. If she made a fool of herself, no one from the Mennonite fellowship would be there to see. And as much as she loved Annika, whatever the girl saw she reported.

“Katy-girl!” Dad’s voice carried from the yard through the open windows.

Would Dad ever drop that babyish nickname? If he called her Katy-girl in front of any of the high school kids, she’d die from embarrassment. “I’m coming!” She yanked up the backpack and pushed her arms through the straps. The backpack’s tug on her shoulders felt strange and yet exhila-rating. She ran down the stairs, the ribbons from her mesh headcovering fluttering against her neck and the backpack bouncing on her spine —one familiar feeling and one new feeling, all at once. The combination almost made her dizzy. She tossed the backpack onto the seat of her dad’s blue pickup and climbed in beside it. As he pulled away from their dairy farm onto the dirt road that led to the highway, she rolled down the window. Dust billowed behind the tires, drifting into the cab. Katy coughed, but she hugged her backpack to her stomach and let the morning air hit her full in the face. She loved the smell of morning, before the day got so hot it melted away the fresh scent of dew.

The truck rumbled past the one-room schoolhouse where Katy had attended first through ninth grades. Given the early hour, no kids cluttered the schoolyard. But in her imagination she saw older kids pushing little kids on the swings, kids waiting for a turn on the warped teeter-totter, and Caleb Penner chasing the girls with a wiggly earthworm and making them scream. Caleb had chased her many times, waving an earthworm or a fat beetle. He’d never made her scream, though. Bugs didn’t bother Katy. She only feared a few things. Like tornadoes. And people leaving and not coming back.

A sigh drifted from Dad’s side of the seat. She turned to face him, noting his somber expression. Dad always looked serious. And tired. Running the dairy farm as well as a household without the help of a wife had aged him. For a moment guilt pricked at Katy’s conscience. She was supposed to stay home and help her family, like all the other Old Order girls when they finished ninth grade.

But the familiar spiral of longing —to learn more, to see what existed outside the limited expanse of Schell-berg—wound its way through her middle. Her fingernails bit into the palms of her hands as she clenched her fists. She had to go. This opportunity, granted to no one else in her little community, was too precious to squander.

“Dad?” She waited until he glanced at her. “Stop worrying.”

His eyebrows shot up, meeting the brim of his billed cap. “I’m not worrying.”

“Yes, you are. You’ve been worrying all morning. Wor-rying ever since the deacons said I could go.” Katy under-stood his worry.

She’d heard the speculative whispers when the Menno-nite fellowship learned that Katy had been granted permis-sion to attend the high school in Salina: “Will she be Kath-leen’s girl through and through?” But she was determined to prove the worriers wrong. She could attend public school, could be with worldly people, and still maintain her faith. Hadn’t she been the only girl at the community school to face Caleb’s taunting bugs without flinching? She was strong.

She gave Dad’s shoulder a teasing nudge with her fist. “I’ll be all right, you know.”

His lips twitched. “I’m not worried about you, Katy-girl.”

He was lying, but Katy didn’t argue. She never talked back to Dad. If she got upset with him, she wrote the words in her journal to get them out of her head, and then she tore the page into tiny bits and threw the pieces away. She’d started the practice shortly after she turned thirteen.

Before then, he’d never done anything wrong. Sometimes she wondered if he’d changed or she had, but it didn’t mat-ter much. She didn’t like feeling upset with him —he was all she had —so she tried to get rid of her anger quickly.

They reached the highway, and Dad parked the pickup on the shoulder. He turned the key, and the engine splut-tered before falling silent. Dad aimed his face out his side window, his elbow propped on the sill. Wind whistled through the open windows and birds trilled a morning song from one of the empty wheat fields that flanked the pickup. The sounds were familiar—a symphony of nature she’d heard since infancy—but today they carried a poi-gnancy that put a lump in Katy’s throat.

Why had she experienced such a strange reaction to wind and birds? She would explore it in her journal before she went to bed this evening. Words —secretive whispers, melodious trill—cluttered her mind. Maybe she’d write a poem about it too, if she wasn’t too tired from her first day at school.

Cars crested the gentle rise in the black-topped high-way and zinged by—sports cars and big SUVs, so differ-ent from the plain black or blue Mennonite pickups and sedans that filled the church lot on Sunday mornings in Schellberg. When would the big yellow bus appear? Katy had been warned it wouldn’t be able to wait for her. Might it have come and gone already? Her stomach fluttered as fear took hold.

Dad suddenly whirled to face her. “Do you have your lunch money?”

She patted the small zipper pocket on the front of the backpack. “Right here.” She hunched her shoulders and giggled. “It feels funny not to carry a lunchbox.” For as far back as she could remember, Katy had carried a lunch she’d packed for herself since she didn’t have a mother to do it for her.

“Yes, but you heard the lady in the school office.” Dad drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “She said the kids at this school eat in the cafeteria or go out to eat.”

Embarrassment crept over Katy as she remembered the day they’d visited the school. When the secretary told Dad about the school lunch program, he’d insisted on reading the lunch menu from beginning to end before agreeing to let his daughter eat “school-made food.”

Truthfully, the menu had looked more enticing than her customary peanut butter sandwich, but Dad had acted as though he thought someone might try to poison her. She’d filled three pages, front and back, in her journal over the incident before tearing the well-scribbled pages into min-iscule bits of litter. But —satisfaction welled—Dad had purchased a lunch ticket after all.

The wind tossed the satin ribbons dangling from the mesh cap that covered her heavy coil of hair. They tickled her chin. She hooked the ribbons in the neck of her dress and then brushed dust from the skirt of her homemade dress. An errant thought formed. I’m glad I’ll be eating cafeteria food like a regular high school kid. It might be only way I don’t stick out.

Dad cleared his throat. “There she comes.”

The school bus rolled toward them. The sun glared off the wide windshield, nearly hiding the monstrous vehicle from view. Katy threw her door open and stepped out, carrying the backpack on her hip as if it were one of her toddler cousins. She sucked in a breath of dismay when Dad met her at the hood of the pickup and reached for her hand.

“It’s okay, Dad.” She smiled at him even though her stomach suddenly felt as though it might return those ba-nana-pecan pancakes at any minute. “I can get on okay.”
The bus’s wide rubber tires crunched on the gravel as it rolled to a stop at the intersection. Giggles carried from in-side the bus when Dad walked Katy to the open door. Katy cringed, trying discreetly pull her hand free, but Dad kept hold and gave the bus driver a serious look.

“This is my daughter, Katy Lambright.”

“Kathleen Lambright,” Katy corrected. Hadn’t she told Dad she wanted to be Kathleen at the new school instead of the childish Katy? Dad wasn’t in favor, and Katy knew why. She would let him continue to call her Katy—or Katy-girl, the nickname he’d given her before she was old enough to sit up—but to the Outside, she was Kathleen.
Dad frowned at the interruption, but he repeated, “Kathleen Lambright. She is attending Salina High North.”

The driver, an older lady with soft white hair cut short and brushed back from her rosy face, looked a little bit like Gramma Ruthie around her eyes. But Gramma would never wear blue jeans or a bright yellow polka-dotted shirt. One side of the driver’s mouth quirked up higher than the other when she smiled, giving her an impish look. “Well, come on aboard, Katy Kathleen Lambright. We have a schedule to keep.”

Another titter swept through the bus. Dad leaned to-ward Katy, as if he planned to hug her good-bye. Katy ducked away and darted onto the bus. When she glanced back, she glimpsed the hurt in Dad’s eyes, and guilt hit her hard. This day wasn’t easy for him. She spun to dash back out and let him hug her after all, but the driver pulled a lever that closed the door, sealing her away from her father.

Suddenly the reality of what she was doing —leaving the security of her little community, her dad, and all that was familiar—washed over her, and for one brief moment she wanted to claw the doors open and dive into the refuge of Dad’s arms, just as she used to do when she was little and frightened by a windstorm.

“Have a seat, Kathleen,” the driver said.

Through the window, Katy watched Dad climb back into the pickup. His face looked so sad, her heart hurt. She felt a sting at the back of her nose —a sure sign that tears were coming. She sniffed hard.

“You’ve got to sit down, or we can’t go.” Impatience colored the driver’s tone. She pushed her foot against the gas pedal, and the bus engine roared in eagerness. More giggles erupted from the kids on the bus.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Katy quickly scanned the seats. Most of them were already filled with kids. The passen-gers all looked her up and down, some smirking, and some staring with their mouths hanging open. She could imagine them wondering what she was doing on their bus. She’d be the first Mennonite student to attend one of the Salina schools. She lifted her chin. Well, they’ll just have to get used to me.
Katy ignored the gawks and searched faces. She had hoped to sit with someone her own age, but none of the kids looked to be more than twelve or thirteen. Finally she spotted an open seat toward the middle on the right. She dropped into it, sliding the backpack into the empty space beside her.

The bus jolted back onto the highway with a crunch of tires on gravel. The two little girls in the seat in front of Katy turned around and stared with round, wide eyes. Katy smiled, but they didn’t smile back. So she raised her eyebrows high and waggled her tongue, the face she used to get her baby cousin Trent to stop crying. The little girls made the same face back, giggled, and turned forward again.
Throughout the bus, kids talked and laughed, at ease with each other. Katy sat alone, silent and invisible. The bus bounced worse than Dad’s pickup, and her stomach felt queasier with each mile covered. She swallowed and swallowed to keep the banana-pecan pancakes in place. Think about something else . . .

High school. Her heart fluttered. Public high school. A smile tugged on the corners of her lips. Classes like botany and music appreciation and literature. Literature . . .

When she’d shown Annika the list of classes selected for her sophomore year at Salina High North, Annika had shaken her head and made a face. “They sound hard. Why do you want to study more anyway? You’re weird, Katy.”

Remembering her friend’s words made her nose sting again. Annika had been Katy’s best friend ever since the first grade when the teacher plunked them together on a little bench at the front of the schoolroom, but despite their lengthy and close friendship, Annika didn’t understand Katy.

Katy stared out the window, biting her lower lip and fighting an uncomfortable realization. Katy didn’t under-stand herself. A ninth grade education seemed to satisfy everyone else in her community, so why wasn’t it enough for her?

Why were questions always swirling through her brain? She could still hear her teacher’s voice in her memory: “Katy, Katy, your many questions make me tired.” Why did words mean so much to her? None of her Menno-nite friends had to write their thoughts in a spiral-bound notebook to keep from exploding. Katy couldn’t begin to explain why. And she knew, even without asking, that was what scared Dad the most. She shook her head, hug-ging her backpack to her thudding heart. He didn’t need to be worried. She loved Dad, loved being a Mennonite girl, loved Schellberg and its wooden chapel of fellowship where she felt close to God and to her neighbors. Besides, the deacons had been very clear when they gave her permission to attend high school. If she picked up worldly habits, attending school would come to an abrupt and per-manent end.

A prayer automatically winged through her heart: God, guide me in this learning, but keep me humble. Help me remember what Dad read from Your Word last night during our prayer time: that a man profits nothing if he gains the world but loses his soul.
The bus pulled in front of the tan brick building that she and Dad had visited two weeks earlier when they enrolled her in school. On that day, the campus had been empty except for a few cars and two men in blue uniforms standing in the shade of a tall pine tree, smoking ciga-rettes. Dad had hurried her right past them. Today, how-
ever, the parking lot overflowed with vehicles in a variety of colors, makes, and models. People—people her age, not like the kids on the school bus —stood in little groups all over the grassy yard, talking and laughing.

Katy stared out the window, her mouth dry. Most of the students had backpacks, but none sporting bold colors like hers. Their backpacks were Mennonite-approved colors: dark blue, green, and lots and lots of black. Should she have selected a plain-colored backpack? Aunt Rebecca had clicked her tongue at Katy’s choice, but the pink one was so pretty, so different from her plain dresses . . . Her hands started to shake.

“Kathleen?” The bus driver turned backward in her seat. “C’mon, honey, scoot on off. I got three more stops to make.”

Katy quickly slipped her arms through the backpack’s straps and scuttled off the bus. The door squealed shut behind her, and the bus pulled away with a growl and a thick cloud of strong-smelling smoke. Katy stood on the sidewalk, facing the school. She twisted a ribbon from her cap around her finger, wondering where she should go. The main building? That seemed a logical choice. She took one step forward but then froze, her skin prickling with awareness.

All across the yard, voices faded. Faces turned one-by-one—a field of faces —all aiming in her direction. She heard a shrill giggle—her own. Her response to nervousness.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the pull on the other kids faded. They turned back to their own groups as if she no longer existed. With a sigh, she resumed her progress toward the main building, turning sideways to ease between groups, sometimes bumping people with her backpack, mumbling apologies and flashing shy smiles. She’d worked her way halfway across the yard when an ear-piercing clang filled the air. The fine hairs on her arms prickled, and she stopped as suddenly as if she’d slammed into the solid brick wall of the school building.

The other kids all began moving, flinging their back-packs over one shoulder and pushing at one another. Katy got swept along with the throng, jostled and bumped like everyone else. Her racing heartbeat seemed to pound a message: This is IT! This is IT! High school!

1 comment:

  1. I attended public school for three years in my teen years. It was very difficult to step out of my protected Hutterite community and adjust to the differences of the two worlds, especially that first year. Eventually everyone got ever the way we dressed and spoke and I ended up making many, many friends. In many ways it was both negative and positive experiences as I was quite younger than the character in the book and not nearly as grounded. I loved this story because I could relate to everything Katy felt. I have high hopes for this series as well.

    There are many different Mennonite groups. Generally speaking the plain ppl differ/vary very much for each other (depending on their location). Like you stated they are different yet have many similarities. Kim Vogel Sawyer grew up in my hometown (Mountain Lake, MN), and the town in populated with several different Mennonite churches but none have kept the traditional plain garb of the Old Order Mennonites.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving your thoughts. Comments on posts that are older than 14 days are moderated so don't worry if your comment doesn't show up automatically.