Olivia Newport’s Brightest and Best is a brilliant book with totally believable characters. The story rehearses the conflict enmeshing Amish people as they sought to win the right to educate their children as they saw best. Their opposition? The requirement of the state to force public education on all children through age sixteen. The time is 1918, just as WWI is ending; the setting is Geauga County, Ohio, where the first recorded conflict took place. This conflict continued until a Supreme Court ruling in 1972.
As I read the book, I was caught up in the conflict strongly on the side of the Amish. To have the state force parents to educate their children in a manner that would violate their religious beliefs is untenable to me. I’m not in favor of someone using religious beliefs as an “out” but I am in favor of allowing parents to determine what is best for their children. That is, as long as what they do does not harm those children in any way. Today we face the same issues with the conflict between public education and those parents who choose to homeschool their children. And we also see the increasing conflict between the government and those who stand for their religious beliefs.
Ella Hilty wants nothing more than to marry Gideon Wittmer and become the mother to his three children—Gertie, Savilla, and Tobias. Before they can marry, the conflict over education erupts when their one-room schoolhouse becomes unsafe for occupancy and their English teacher, Miss Coates, leaves to be married. Margaret Simpson, a public school first grade teacher, is given the assignment to persuade the Amish families to send their children to the consolidated school. Before she makes much headway, the superintendent of schools takes matters into his own hands and involves the sheriff’s office to attempt to force compliance. Margaret chafes at the action, in her heart of heart believing the Amish are right.
You’ll meet others in the community: Lindy Lehman, a talented woodworker who chose not to join the Amish church, and is estranged from her sister, Rachel, who is married to Ella’s daed, Jed. David, Rachel’s son, who wants nothing more than to continue his schooling, but has passed eighth grade—the age at which Amish children stop their schooling. If you’re like me, you’ll fume at the treatment the Amish received just because they’re different. And then you’ll blush in chagrin as you realize many people today feel exactly the same way as the English in Geauga County did—only about those of other races—and religions. Brightest and Best (Amish Turns of Time)
is as relevant to situations in 2015 as it is in describing the conflict in 1918. Five stars!
To quote her bio, Olivia Newport’s novels twist through time to find where faith and passions meet. Her husband and two twenty-something children provide welcome distraction from the people stomping through her head on their way into her books. She chases joy in stunning Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, where daylilies grow as tall as she is.” More information about Olivia can be found on her website, OliviaNewport.com.