1. Dat and Ellie decide early in the novel that they should record their family’s history and stories: “family stories—and tall tales—to enjoy and pass down” (21). What are some stories from your own family or families you’re close to that you enjoy listening to and retelling? How might you record or share those stories for future generations?
2. Ellie’s baptism is described as “the most precious and holy vow there is” (124). Her mother reminds her that her baptism is “a result of [her] own heart’s desire to follow the Lord . . . not anyone else’s” (109). Yet Ellie also wants her baptism to “be a witness to [her] brother” (129). In what ways is baptism an individual decision and milestone? In what ways does it affect our church and community? Reflect on your own baptism, if relevant, and the impact that decision has had on your spiritual life.
3. Ellie describes the orchard as “God’s masterful work of fruit trees and sun and sky . . . there was peace right here in the midst of this heavenly sort of place, despite the unpredictable storm churning around her family” (126). What does the orchard represent throughout the book? What symbolism or meaning does it carry for some of the characters? Is there any particular place in your life that serves as your sanctuary or place of peace?
4. Leah leaves home to care for another family’s children and initially struggles with the distance from her family and closest friend. Once she is established, though, she shares with Ellie that the move was ultimately part of God’s plan—in fostering her independence and introducing her to Reuben. Has there been a time in your own life where an initially difficult or painful situation turned out to be one of God’s blessings in your life? How did you trust God in that season?
5. Throughout the book, Ellie is uncertain that she hears the voice of God the same way that other characters like Leah seem to hear God’s clear promptings of direction. What is an example of a time you heard God speak to you or prompt you in a certain direction?
6. Ellie and Evan are twins, yet they are distinctly different people—in their approach to faith, in their approach to the Amish way of life, and in their relationships with family and friends. Were you able to relate more easily to one twin or the other? What did you notice about each twin individually and their relationship together as the story evolved?
7. Lyle describes Rumschpringe as “the running-around years [that] were a coming-of-age tradition for their Amish youth” (25). Some of the Amish individuals in the book disapprove of certain aspects of the practice, calling it “playing with fire” and claiming it encourages youth to linger in a state of recklessness (37). In the book, we see Evan’s Rumschpringe open his eyes to different ways of life outside his Plain community. How can you empathize with Amish parents and families who dislike the tradition? And with the youth who participate? Were there any times in your life when you had similar coming-of-age experiences? How did those experiences affect your faith, your family, and your identity?
8. Ellie often withholds information in Evan’s letters from the rest of her family, per Evan’s own suggestion. Ellie’s father himself notes that “sometimes what a person didn’t know was easier” (136). What effect does this have on the family’s period of uncertainty as they wait for news from Evan? Do you think that was a wise decision on Ellie’s part? Has there been a situation in your own life where you have withheld information to protect someone you care about?
9. Ellie’s friends and family frequently observe that she dislikes change and wishes her life could remain as it is. Between Leah leaving home, Evan going off to war, and courtship pairings continually evolving, her life often feels unsettled and uncertain. Ultimately, she concludes, “Our faithful Savior doesn’t change . . . [we] can depend on Him” (124). Has there been a time in your own life that you’ve felt resistant to change? How were you able to cope with the changes life inevitably brings?
10. After reading this glimpse of the era of the Vietnam War and what life was like for the conscientious objectors among the Amish community, is there anything you want to learn more about? What surprised you or interested you the most about this community at this point in history?
11. Ellie notices as she grows closer with Sol that she and Menno were not as compatible and would not have been as strong of a couple. What attributes of Ellie and Sol contribute to their being a good match? How do we see them develop and grow as a couple over the course of the novel?
12. Ellie contemplates that “it was easy to feel God’s presence during spring’s blossoming and summertime’s harvest. But now? Now, when trees were spindly black sticks against the icy white snow and miserable gray sky, was God still there?” (283). In which seasons or in which areas of life do you find it easiest to feel God’s presence and see Him working? In which seasons or areas is that more difficult for you? Why do you think that is?
13. When Evan returns home, his family is reluctant to press him to discuss his experiences or inquire about his mental health. Do you agree with their decision to let him share on his own timeframe? Why or why not? What are some ways you have supported family and friends when they have experienced loss or trauma?