Plain: A Memoir of Mennonite Girlhood

In Plain, Mary Alice Hostetter (editor of The Measure of a Life) tells an authentic and evocative story about her early years entrenched in strict Mennonite religious traditions and her experiences when, at the age of 18, she decided to leave the community. Hostetter grew up the 10th of 12 children, toeing the line, being good, obedient and God-fearing. However, yearnings beyond what she considered the limitations of her patriarchal community raised questions that lured her away from the traditions and expectations of her birthright.

In 21 beautifully captured essays, Hostetter digs deep into her childhood working on a farm, tending house and churchgoing; rebellions such as sneaking off to movies; early paid jobs like a stint as a local tour guide to the Mennonite and Amish communities; her quest to go to college and become a teacher; changing her wardrobe and frequenting happy hours. Hostetter's journey to a very small town in West Virginia--a sabbatical taken from teaching to write a book--changes her life unexpectedly. Intrigued by welcoming townsfolk, she ends up learning how to make cheese. In many ways, her West Virginia experiences bring her back to her roots, while they also widen the scope of her world as she finally recognizes and embraces being a lesbian.

These moving essays straddle the line between Hostetter expressing a fervent desire to leave her upbringing and way of life, while also finding pride and nostalgia for where she came from. Readers are the blessed beneficiaries of her early formations and experiences, as without them, she would not have become such a sensitive, perceptive and wise writer. -- Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

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