Book Review of “Rumspringa” by Tom Shachtman

TITLE: Rumspringa: To Be or Not To Be Amish

AUTHOR: Tom Shachtman

ISBN: 9780865477421

PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

BOOK BLURB:

Rumspringa is Tom Shachtman’s celebrated look at a littleknown Amish coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa'”the period of “running around” that begins for their youth at age sixteen. During this time, Amish youth are allowed to live outside the bounds of their faith, experimenting with alcohol, premarital sex, revealing clothes, telephones, drugs, and wild parties. By allowing such broad freedoms, their parents hope they will learn enough to help them make the most important decision of their lives'”whether to be baptized as Christians, join the church, and forever give up worldly ways, or to remain in the world.

BOOK REVIEW:

This is a very interesting book, and I learned a lot about the Amish community that I didn’t know before.

Apparently, when an Amish teenager turns 16, he or she enters a period of time called rumspringa. Most Amish youth use this time as a way to experience English (i.e., non-Amish) life. During rumspringa, the Amish kids can do things normally prohibited by their religious leaders — this includes going to parties, listening to secular music, watching TV, driving cars, drinking alcohol, smoking, using drugs, and having premarital sex.

The idea behind rumspringa is to let the kids experience life outside the Amish world, to the extent that they sow any wild oats well before they “join church,” or become baptised in the Amish faith. This book follows several Amish teens through their rumspringa period, giving us insight into why almost 90% of them eventually return to the faith.

My only complaint (and it’s a small one) is that I would have liked a bit more diversity among the kids interviewed. For example, Amish adhere very strictly to the Christian Bible and believe that homosexuality is wrong, but I can’t imagine that none of the teenage boys in those Amish communities haven’t thought about it. There were quite a few kids mentioned in the book who either didn’t join church or who did so and then left (which led to their being placed in the bann and effectively cut off from their Amish past forever), so it would have been very interesting to hear from guys who didn’t want to get married and settle down, or who questioned their sexuality. The book mentions several young women who do not want to submit to the role of housewife, and one who fights against rumors of being a lesbian because she lives with another woman on the outside, so it would have been nice to read about guys of a similar mindset. Overall, this book is a very interesting look at the Amish faith and good commentary on why (in the author’s opinion) so many young people return to the fold despite the temptations of today’s consumer-based society.