Plain Truth

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Overview

From the bestselling author of My Sister's Keeper comes the riveting story of a murder that shatters the picturesque calm of Amish country ? and tests the heart and soul of the lawyer defending the woman at the center of the storm.

The discovery of a dead infant in an Amish barn shakes Lancaster County to its core. But the police investigation leads to a more shocking disclosure: circumstantial evidence suggests that eighteen-year-old Katie Fisher, an unmarried Amish woman ...

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Overview

From the bestselling author of My Sister's Keeper comes the riveting story of a murder that shatters the picturesque calm of Amish country — and tests the heart and soul of the lawyer defending the woman at the center of the storm.

The discovery of a dead infant in an Amish barn shakes Lancaster County to its core. But the police investigation leads to a more shocking disclosure: circumstantial evidence suggests that eighteen-year-old Katie Fisher, an unmarried Amish woman believed to be the newborn's mother, took the child's life. When Ellie Hathaway, a disillusioned big-city attorney, comes to Paradise, Pennsylvania, to defend Katie, two cultures collide — and for the first time in her high-profile career, Ellie faces a system of justice very different from her own. Delving deep inside the world of those who live "plain," Ellie must find a way to reach Katie on her terms. And as she unravels a tangled murder case, Ellie also looks deep within — to confront her own fears and desires when a man from her past reenters her life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] suspenseful, richly layered drama."

People

"Absorbing and affecting."

Entertainment Weekly

"Picoult is a master of the craft of storytelling."

Houston Chronicle

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
An "excellent" portrait of Amish life rarely witnessed by those outside the faith is presented in this "captivating, heartwrenching" novel -- where circumstances are not always what they seem, where love meets falsehood, and where relationships grow strong enough to transcend death. "What a great book!" "Amazing." Universally loved by our booksellers. "A great book club recommendation." "Deserves an Oprah stamp."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though it begins as the quietly electrifying story of an unmarried Amish teenager who gives birth to a baby she is accused of then smothering, Picoult's latest (after Keeping Faith) settles into an ordinary trial epic, albeit one centered intriguingly on an Amish dairy farm near Lancaster, Pa. Katie Fisher, 18, denies not only having committed the murder but even having borne the baby, whose body is found in the Fishers' calving pen, and she sticks to her story, even when she is quizzed by Ellie Hathaway, the high-powered Philadelphia attorney who undertakes Katie's defense as a favor to Leda, an aunt she and the young woman share. Ellie, who has retreated to Leda's farm in Paradise to reconsider her life--she successfully defends guilty clients--embarks on the case reluctantly: at 39, she wants nothing more than to have a child. However, to meet bail stipulations, she volunteers as Katie's guardian (since Kate's strict parents reject her) and moves in with the Fishers. Living with the Amish necessitates some adjustments for both parties, but Katie and Ellie become fast friends in spite of their differences. Very little action occurs beyond the initial setup, though the questions remain: Who was the father of Katie's child? And did she smother the newborn? Told from both third-person omniscient and first-person (Ellie's) vantages, the story rolls leisurely through the trial preparations, the results of which are repeated, tediously, in the courtroom. Perhaps the story's quietude is appropriate, given its magnificently painted backdrop and distinctive characters, but one can't help wishing that the spark igniting the book's opening pages had built into a full-fledged blaze. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In the middle of a summer night, Amish teenager Katie Fischer goes out to the barn on her family's Lancaster County, PA, farm and gives birth to a son. Exhausted by the ordeal, she falls asleep. When she wakes up, the baby is gone. It is found hours later, covered by hay, dead. Katie is then charged with murder, which she vehemently denies. Philadelphia defense attorney Ellie Hathaway is burned out; she's had one too many sleazy clients. Her eight-year relationship with another attorney has ended, so Ellie retreats to her friend's home in Lancaster County. The friend, a former Amish church member and a cousin to the Fischers, persuades Ellie to take Katie's case. The bail bargain is that Ellie must live at the Fischer farm, where she gains an understanding of their culture, in which God is first, the community is second, and the individual is third. The book is written from both Katie's and Ellie's point of view, so the use of two narrators (Christina Moore and Suzanne Toren) emphasizes the different voices very effectively. The Pennsylvania German dialect and accented English are convincing; recommended.
—Nann Blaine Hilyard
School Library Journal
YA-Philadelphia defense lawyer Ellie Hathaway retreats to her great Aunt Leda's home in Paradise, PA, to get a break from her high-pressure job. Almost at the same time that she arrives, a dead baby is discovered in the barn of an Amish farmer. A police investigation reveals that the mother is an 18-year-old unmarried Amish girl, Katie Fisher, and that the infant apparently did not die of natural causes. Even in the face of medical proof that she recently gave birth, Katie denies the murder charge. Ellie reluctantly agrees to defend her, even though she does not want to be defended. To better understand her client, Ellie moves into the farmhouse with the Fisher family where she begins to see firsthand the pressures and sacrifices of those who live "plain." As she searches for evidence in this case, she calls upon a friend from her past, Dr. John Cooper, a psychiatrist. As Coop and Ellie work together to unravel fact and fiction, they also work to resolve issues in their relationship. Readers will experience a psychological drama as well as a suspenseful courtroom trial. The contrast between the Amish culture and the "English" provides an interesting tension. This study of opposites details much information about a way of life based on faith, humility, duty, and hon-esty.-Carol Clark, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An uneven reworking of tabloid headlines: a young woman is charged with infanticide, and a hard-boiled attorney agrees to defend her. With one crucial distinction: the defendant is Amish. In the Amish community of Paradise, Pennsylvania, 18-year-old Katie Fisher, unwed, is the chief suspect in the death by asphyxiation of a newborn found in the Fisher family's barn. A medical exam reveals that Katie has just given birth, but she insists she has never been pregnant. Enter Ellie Hathaway, a 39-year-old (and single) Philadelphia defense attorney visiting her aunt Leda. Leda, also Amish, prevails upon an initially reluctant Ellie to defend Katie. Ellie moves in with the Fishers to prepare Katie's defense, a device that allows Picoult (Keeping Faith, 1999, etc.) to juxtapose the devout Amish (or Plain Folk) and their spartan way of life with city-slicker Ellie. But as Ellie befriends Katie, unsettling inconsistencies in the latter's story emerge. As in Rashomon, the truth proves elusive, shifting, and often unwelcome. Is Katie suffering from a genuine psychosis, repressing events too traumatic to remember? Or was she simply trying to conceal an affair and pregnancy she knew would have led to her being shunned by her own people? The drama echoes with conflicts in Ellie's own life: her loudly ticking biological clock, the end of a tepid relationship with another attorney, and the resumption of a love affair with Coop, her college sweetheart-turned-psychologist (and eventual expert witness on Katie's behalf). All, of course, will be tidily resolved by trial's end. Despite a provocative and topical premise, and a strong opening, Picoult fails this time, herseventh, torise above paint-by-numbers formula. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416547815
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2007
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 79,479
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult received an AB in creative writing from Princeton and a master’s degree in education from Harvard. The recipient of the 2003 New England Book Award for her entire body of work, she is the author of twenty-one novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers House Rules, Handle With Care, Change of Heart, and My Sister’s Keeper, for which she received the American Library Association’s Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Visit her website at JodiPicoult.com.

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 19, 1966
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nesconset, Long Island, NY
    1. Education:
      A.B. in Creative Writing, Princeton University; M.A. in Education, Harvard University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

She had often dreamed of her little sister floating dead beneath the surface of the ice, but tonight, for the first time, she envisioned Hannah clawing to get out. She could see Hannah's eyes, wide and milky; could feel Hannah's nails scraping. Then, with a start, she woke. It was not winter — it was July. There was no ice beneath her palms, just the tangled sheets of her bed. But once again, there was someone on the other side, fighting to be free.

As the fist in her belly pulled tighter, she bit her bottom lip. Ignoring the pain that rippled and receded, she tiptoed barefoot into the night.

The barn cat yowled when she stepped inside. She was panting by now, her legs shaking like willow twigs. Lowering herself to the hay in the far corner of the calving pen, she drew up her knees. The swollen cows rolled their blue moon eyes in her direction, then turned away quickly, as if they knew better than to bear witness.

She concentrated on the hides of the Holsteins until their black spots shimmied and swam. She sank her teeth into the rolled hem of her nightgown. There was a funnel of pressure, as if she were being turned inside out; and she remembered how she and Hannah used to squeeze through the hole in the barbed wire fence by the creek's edge, pushing and angled, all knees and grunts and elbows, until by some miracle they'd tumble through.

It was over as suddenly as it had begun. And lying on the matted, stained hay between her legs was a baby.

*
• *

Aaron Fisher rolled over beneath the bright quilt to stare at the clock beside the bed. There had been nothing, no sound to wake him, but after forty-five years of farming and milking, the smallest things could pull him out of sleep: a footfall in the corn, a change in the pattern of the wind, the rasp of a mother's tongue roughing a newborn calf.

He felt the mattress give as Sarah came up on an elbow behind him, the long braid of her hair curling over her shoulder like a seaman's rope. "Was ist letz?" What's the matter?

It was not the animals; there was a full month before the first cow was due to deliver. It was not a robber; there was too little noise. He felt his wife's arm slip around him, hugging his back to her front. "Nix," he murmured. Nothing. But he did not know if he was trying to convince Sarah, or himself.

She knew enough to cut the cord that spiraled purple to the baby's belly. Hands shaking, she managed to reach the old scissors that hung on a peg near the pen's door. They were rusty and coated with bits of hay. The cord severed in two thick snips, and then began spurting blood. Horrified, she pressed her fingers to the ends, pinching it shut, wildly looking around for something to tie it off.

She rummaged in the hay and came up with a small length of baling twine, which she quickly tied around the cord. The bleeding slowed, then stopped. Relieved, she sank back on her elbows — and then the newborn started to cry.

She snatched the baby up and rocked it tightly. With her foot, she kicked at the hay, trying to cover the blood with a clean layer. The baby's mouth opened and closed on the cotton of her nightgown, rooting.

She knew what the baby wanted, needed, but she couldn't do it. It would make this real.

So she gave the baby her pinkie finger instead. She let the small, powerful jaws suckle, while she did what she had been taught to do in times of extreme stress; what she had been doing for months now. "Lord," she prayed, "please make this go away."

The rustle of chains awakened her. It was still dark out, but the dairy cows' internal schedule had them rising at their individual stalls, their bags hanging blue-veined and round with milk, like full moons caught between their legs. She was sore and tired, but knew she had to get out of the barn before the men arrived to do the milking. Glancing down, she realized that a miracle had come to pass: the blood-soaked hay was fresh now, except for a small stain beneath her own bottom. And the two things she'd been holding when she fell asleep — the scissors and the newborn — were gone.

She pulled herself to her feet and glanced toward the roof, awed and reverent. "Denke," she whispered, and then she ran out of the barn into the shadows.

Like all other sixteen-year-old Amish boys, Levi Esch no longer attended school. He'd gone through the eighth grade and was now in that limbo between being a child and being old enough to be baptized into the Amish faith. In the interim, he was a hired hand for Aaron Fisher, who no longer had a son to help him work his dairy farm. Levi had gotten the job through the recommendation of his older cousin Samuel, who'd been apprenticing with the Fishers now for five years. And since everyone knew that Samuel was probably going to marry the Fishers' daughter soon and set up his own farm, it meant Levi would be getting a promotion.

His workday started at 4:00 a.m., as on all other dairy farms. It was still pitch-dark, and Levi could not see Samuel's buggy approach, but he could hear the faint jingle of tack and traces. He grabbed his flat-brimmed straw hat and ran out the door, then jumped onto the seat beside Samuel.

"Hi," he said breathlessly.

Samuel nodded at him but didn't turn, didn't speak.

"What's the matter?" Levi teased. "Katie wouldn't kiss you good-bye last night?"

Samuel scowled and cuffed Levi, sending his hat spinning into the back of the buggy. "Why don't you just shut up?" The wind whispered at the ragged edge of the cornfield as they drove on in silence. After a while, Samuel pulled the buggy into the Fishers' front yard. Levi scuffed the toe of his boot into the soft earth and waited for Samuel to put the horse out to pasture before they headed into the barn.

The lights used for milking were powered by a generator, as were the vacuum pumps hooked up to the teats of the cows. Aaron Fisher knelt beside one of the herd, spraying the udders with iodine solution and then wiping them dry with a page ripped from an old phone book. "Samuel, Levi," he greeted.

He did not tell them what to do, because by now they already knew. Samuel maneuvered the wheelbarrow beneath a silo and began to mix the feed. Levi shoveled out the manure behind each cow, periodically looking at Samuel and wishing he was already the senior farmhand.

The barn door opened, and Aaron's father ambled in. Elam Fisher lived in the grossdawdi haus, a small apartment attached to the main building. Although Elam helped out with the milking, Levi knew the unwritten rules: make sure the old man carried nothing heavy; keep him from taxing himself; and make him believe that Aaron couldn't do without him, although Aaron could have, any day of the week. "Boys," Elam boomed, then stopped in his tracks, his nose wrinkled above his long, white beard. "Why, we've had a calf."

Puzzled, Aaron stood. "No. I checked the pen."

Elam shook his head. "There's the smell of it, all the same."

"More like it's Levi, needing a bath," Samuel joked, emptying a fresh scoop of feed in front of the first cow.

As Samuel passed him with the wheelbarrow, Levi came up swinging and slipped on a slick of manure. He landed on his bottom in the ditch built to catch the refuse and set his jaw at Samuel's burst of laughter.

"Come on now," Aaron chided, although a grin tugged at his mouth. "Samuel, leave him be. Levi, I think Sarah left your spare clothes in the tack room."

Levi scrambled to his feet, his cheeks burning. He walked past Aaron, past the chalkboard with the annotated statistics on the cows due to calve, and turned into the small cubby that housed the blankets and bridles used for the farm's workhorses and mules. Like the rest of the barn, it was neat as a pin. Braided leather reins crossed the wall like spiderwebs, and shelves were stacked with spare horseshoes and jars of liniment.

Levi glanced about but could see no clothing. Then he noticed something bright in the pile of horse blankets. Well, that would make sense. If Sarah Fisher had washed his things, they had probably been done with the other laundry. He lifted the heavy, striped blanket and recognized his spare trousers and jewel green shirt, rolled into a ball. Levi stepped forward, intending to shake it out, and found himself staring down into the tiny, still face of a newborn.

"Aaron!" Levi skidded to a stop, panting. "Aaron, you've got to come." He ran toward the tack room. Aaron exchanged a glance with his father, and they both started after the boy, with Samuel trailing.

Levi stood in front of a stool piled high with horse blankets, on top of which rested a sleeping baby wrapped in a boy's shirt. "I...I don't think it's breathing."

Aaron stepped closer. It had been a long time since he'd been around a baby this small. The soft skin of its face was cold. He knelt and tipped his head, hoping that its breath would fall into the cup of his ear. He flattened his hand against its chest.

Then he turned to Levi. "Run to the Schuylers and ask to borrow their phone," he said. "Call the police."

"Get out," Lizzie Munro said to the officer in charge. "I'm not going to check an unresponsive infant. Send an ambulance."

"They're already there. They want a detective."

Lizzie rolled her eyes. Every year that she'd been a detective-sergeant with the East Paradise Township police, the paramedics seemed to get younger. And more stupid. "It's a medical call, Frank."

"Well, something's out of kilter down there." The lieutenant handed her a slip of paper with an address on it.

"Fisher?" Lizzie read, frowning at the surname and the street. "They're Amish?"

"Think so."

Lizzie sighed and grabbed her big black purse and her badge. "You know this is a waste of time." In the past, Lizzie had occasionally dealt with Old Order Amish teenagers, who'd gather together in some guy's barn to drink and dance and generally disturb the peace. Once or twice she'd been called to take a statement from an Amish businessman who'd been burglarized. But for the most part, the Amish had little contact with the police. Their community existed unobtrusively within the regular world, like a small air bubble impervious to the fluid around it.

"Just take their statements, and I'll make it up to you." Frank held the door open for her as she left her office. "I'll find a nice, fat felony for you to sink your teeth into."

"Don't do me any favors," Lizzie said, but she was grinning as she got into her car and headed to the Fisher farm.

The Fishers' front yard was crowded with a squad car, an ambulance, and a buggy. Lizzie walked up to the house and knocked on the front door.

No one answered, but a voice behind Lizzie called out a greeting, the cadences of the woman's dialect softening her consonants. A middle-aged Amish woman wearing a lavender dress and a black apron hurried toward Lizzie. "I am Sarah Fisher. Can I help you?"

"I'm Detective-Sergeant Lizzie Munro."

Sarah nodded solemnly and led Lizzie into the barn's tack room, where two paramedics knelt over a baby. Lizzie hunkered down beside one EMT. "What have you got?"

"Newborn, emphasis on the new. No pulse or respirations when we got here, and we haven't been able to revive him. One of the farmworkers found him wrapped up in that green shirt, underneath a horse blanket. Can't tell if it was stillborn or not, but someone was trying to hide the body all the same. I think one of your guys is around by the milking stalls, he might be able to tell you more."

"Wait a second — someone gave birth to this baby, and then tried to conceal it?"

"Yeah. About three hours ago," the paramedic murmured.

Suddenly the simple medical response call was more complicated than Lizzie had expected, and the most likely suspect was standing four feet away. Lizzie glanced up at Sarah Fisher, who wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. "The baby...it's dead?"

"I'm afraid so, Mrs. Fisher."

Lizzie opened her mouth to ask another question, but was distracted by the distant sound of equipment being moved about. "What's that?"

"The men, finishing up the milking."

Lizzie's brows shot up. "The milking?"

"These things..." the woman said quietly. "They still have to be done."

Suddenly, Lizzie felt profoundly sorry for her. Life never stopped for death; she should know that better than most. She gentled her voice and put her hand on Mrs. Fisher's shoulder, not quite certain what sort of psychological state the woman was in. "I know this must be very difficult for you, but I'm going to have to ask you some questions about your baby."

Sarah Fisher raised her eyes to meet Lizzie's. "It's not my baby," she said. "I have no idea where it came from."

A half hour later, Lizzie leaned down beside the crime scene photographer. "Stick to the barn. The Amish don't like having their pictures taken." The man nodded, shooting a roll around the tack room, with several close-ups of the infant's corpse.

At least now she understood why she'd been called down. An unidentified dead infant, an unknown mother who'd abandoned it. And all this smack in the middle of an Amish farm.

She had interviewed the neighbors, a Lutheran couple who swore that they'd never heard so much as raised voices from the Fishers, and who couldn't imagine where the baby might have come from. They had two teenage daughters, one of whom sported a nose and navel ring, who had alibis for the previous night. But they had agreed to undergo gynecological exams to rule themselves out as suspects.

Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, had not.

Lizzie considered this as she stood in the milk room, watching Aaron Fisher empty a small hand tank of milk into a larger one. He was tall and dark, his arms thick with ropes of muscle developed by farming. His beard brushed the second button of his shirt. As he finished, he set down the tank and turned to give Lizzie his full attention.

"My wife was not pregnant, Detective," Aaron said.

"You're certain?"

"Sarah can't have more children. The doctors made it that way, after she almost died birthing our youngest."

"Your other children, Mr. Fisher — where were they when the baby was found?"

A shadow passed over the man's face, disappearing as quickly as Lizzie had marked it. "My daughter was asleep, upstairs. My other child...is gone."

"Gone, like down the road to her own home?"

"Dead."

"This daughter who was asleep is how old?"

"Eighteen."

At that, Lizzie glanced up. Neither Sarah Fisher nor the paramedics had mentioned that there was another woman of childbearing age who lived on the farm. "Is it possible that she was pregnant, Mr. Fisher?"

The man's face turned so red that Lizzie grew worried. "She isn't even married."

"It's not a prerequisite, sir."

Aaron Fisher stared at the detective coldly, clearly. "It is for us."

It seemed to take forever to get through milking all forty cows, and it had nothing to do with the arrival of a second battalion of police officers. Samuel closed the pasture gate after letting out the heifers and walked toward the main house. He should go help Levi sweep out the barn one last time for the morning, but this once it would wait.

He didn't bother to knock. Just opened the door, as if the home was already his and the young woman inside at the stove also belonged to him. He stopped for a moment, watching the sun grace her profile and gild her honey hair, her movements quick and efficient as she fixed breakfast.

"Katie," Samuel said, stepping inside.

She turned quickly, the spoon flying up in the batter bowl as she started. "Oh, Samuel. I wasn't expecting you yet." She peered around his shoulder, as if she might see an army behind him. "Mam said I ought to make enough for everyone."

Samuel walked forward and took the bowl, setting it on the counter. He reached for her hands. "You don't look so good."

She grimaced. "Thanks for the compliment."

He drew her closer. "Are you okay?"

Her eyes, when they met his, were the jewel blue of an ocean he had once seen on the cover of a travel magazine, and — he imagined — just as endlessly deep. They were what had first attracted him to Katie, across a crowded church service. They were what made him believe that, even years from now, he would do anything for this one woman.

She ducked away from him and began to flip the pancakes. "You know me," she said breathlessly. "I get nervous around these Englischers."

"Not so many. Only a handful of policemen." Samuel frowned at her back in concern. "They may want to talk to you, though. They seem to want to talk to everyone."

She set the spatula down and turned slowly. "What did they find out there?"

"Your mother didn't tell you?"

Katie slowly shook her head, and Samuel hesitated, torn between her trust in him to tell her the truth and the desire to keep her blissfully unaware for as long as possible. He ran his hands through his straw-colored hair, making it stand on end. "Well, they found a baby. Dead."

He saw her eyes widen, those incredible eyes, and then she sank down onto one of the kitchen chairs. "Oh," she whispered, stunned.

In a moment he was at her side, holding her close and whispering that he would take her away from here, and to heck with the police. He felt her soften against him, and for a moment Samuel was triumphant — after so many days of being rebuffed, to finally come back to this. But Katie stiffened and drew away. "I don't think this is the time," she chided. She stood and turned off the stove's gas burners, then folded her arms across her middle. "Samuel, I think I would like you to take me somewhere."

"Anywhere," he promised.

"I want you to take me to see this baby."

"It's blood," the medical examiner confirmed, kneeling in the calving pen in front of a small, dark stain. "And placenta. Not a cow's, from the size of it. Someone had a baby recently."

"Stillborn?"

He hesitated. "I can't say without doing the autopsy — but my hunch says no."

"So it just...died?"

"I didn't say that, either."

Lizzie sat back on her heels. "You're telling me someone intentionally killed this baby?"

The man shrugged. "I guess that's up to you to find out."

Lizzie calculated quickly in her mind. Given such a small window between the baby's birth and death, chances were that the perpetrator of the crime was the infant's mother. "What are we talking? Strangulation?"

"Smothering, more likely. I should have a preliminary autopsy report by tomorrow."

Lizzie thanked him and wandered away from the scene the patrolmen were now securing. All of a sudden this was no longer an abandonment case, but a potential homicide. There was enough probable cause to get a warrant from a district judge for blood samples, evidence that might point a finger at the woman who had done this.

She stopped walking as the barn door opened. A tall blond man — one of the farm help — stepped into the dim light with a young woman. He nodded at Lizzie. "This is Katie Fisher."

She was lovely, in that sturdy Germanic style that always made Lizzie think of fresh cream and springtime. She wore the traditional garb of the Old Order Amish: a long-sleeved dress, covered by a black apron that fell just below her knees. Her feet were bare and callused — it had always amazed Lizzie to see these Amish youth running down gravel roads without their shoes, but that was how they spent the summer. The girl was also so nervous that Lizzie could nearly smell her fear. "I'm glad you're here, Katie," Lizzie said gently. "I've been looking for you, so that I can ask you some questions."

At that, Katie moved closer to the blond giant beside her. "Katie was asleep last night," he said. "She didn't even know what happened until I told her."

Lizzie tried to gauge the girl's response, but something had distracted her. She was staring over Lizzie's shoulder into the tack room, where the medical examiner was supervising the removal of the baby's body.

Suddenly the girl wrenched away from Samuel and ran out the barn door, with Lizzie chasing her to the farmhouse porch.

As reactions to death went, this was a violent one. Lizzie watched the girl trying to compose herself, and wondered what had prompted it. Had this been any ordinary teen, Lizzie would have taken such behavior as an indication of guilt — but Katie Fisher was Amish, which required her to filter her thoughts. If you were Amish, you could grow up in Lancaster County without television news broadcasts and R-rated movies, without rape and wife-beating and murder. You could see a dead baby and be honestly, horribly shocked by the sight.

Then again, there had been cases in recent years; teenage mothers who'd hidden their pregnancies and after the birth had tied up the loose ends by getting rid of the newborn. Teenage mothers who were completely unaware of what they'd done. Teenage mothers who came in all shapes, all sizes, all religions.

Katie leaned against a pillar and sobbed into her hands. "I'm sorry," the girl said. "Seeing it — the body — it made me think of my sister."

"The one who died?"

Katie nodded. "She drowned when she was seven."

Lizzie looked toward the fields, a green sea that rippled with the breeze. In the distance, a horse whinnied, and another answered. "Do you know what happens when you have a baby?" Lizzie asked quietly.

Katie narrowed her eyes. "I live on a farm."

"I know. But animals are different from women. And if women do give birth, and don't get medical attention afterward, they may be putting themselves in great danger." Lizzie hesitated. "Katie, do you have anything you want to tell me?"

"I didn't have a baby," Katie answered, looking directly at the detective. "I didn't." But Lizzie was staring at the porch floor. There was a small maroon smudge on the painted white planks. And a slow trickle of blood, running down Katie's bare leg.

Copyright © 2000 by Jodi Picoult

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Introduction

Plain Truth

Readers guide

Introduction

In Plain Truth, Jodi Picoult treats us to a richly appointed portrait of intersecting faiths, ambivalent family dynamics, erotic awakenings, community scandals, courtroom machinations, and the ethical compromises of legal defense — all filtered compellingly into a taut and intricate narrative that doles out fresh revelations and mounting suspense with each new chapter.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Must "like the patches that make up a quilt," Picoult deliberately brings together in a single narrative two starkly different and often clashing cultures and ideologies; she highlights the tensions between them, and also underscores their inherent similarities. Discuss Picoult's writing style. What techniques does she use to establish the novel's tone, to develop her characters' oft-concealed motives, and to achieve this overall "quilt"-like effect?

2. Critics have suggested that what makes Picoult such a unique and effective novelist among contemporary writers is her firm grasp of the delicacy and complexity of human relationships. How is this quality particularly apparent in Plain Truth?

3. Furthermore, like precious few novels today, Picoult's books thoughtfully contend with the significance and mechanics of spirituality in an increasingly secular culture. In fact, USA Today observed that what makes Keeping Faith [a previous Picoult bestseller] especially remarkable is the way it "makes you wonder about God. And that is a rare moment, indeed, in modern fiction." Could the same be said of Plain Truth? Explain. What aspects of this novel particularlyresonated with you?

4. How would you describe this novel to a friend? Is it a suspense novel? A love story? A legal thriller? An exploration of modern culture and morality? A study of human psychology and character motivation? What makes Plain Truth stand out among contemporary novels? To what degree does Picoult refresh or even redefine the various fictional genres with which this novel might be associated?

5. Identify the narrative techniques Picoult employs to draw you into Katie Fisher's plight. Why do we care so much about her? How does her specific situation come to touch upon such timeless and universal issues as community estrangement and forbidden love?

6. How accurate is it to say that, as readers, we approach this novel in much the same way Ellie approaches Katie's case: as aliens to the Amish lifestyle, and as onlookers painfully unsettled by the horrendous crime with which Katie is charged?

7. What kind of man is Aaron Fisher? As you were reading, what were your reactions to his choices? What motivates him? If we had to, how could we make a case for defending Aaron's code of life, his propensity to put the community about the individual? What compels him to adhere so strictly to the laws and traditions of the Amish faith, even when it means severing all ties with his only son?

8. On the face of things, Sarah Fisher appears to be a woman willing to submit wholly to her husband's word and will. Does this assessment bear out in the end? Looking back through the novel, identify the subtle clues and telling bits of dialogue which Picoult lays out to lead us toward Sarah's astonishing revelation at the end of the novel. What does motherhood finally mean to Sarah Fisher?

9. "You know how a mother would do anything, if it meant saving her child," Sarah tells Ellie. And earlier on, ostensibly referring to her ability to butcher chickens without remorse, Sarah pointedly tells Ellie, "I do what I have to do. You of all people should understand." What is Picoult up to here? Why would Ellie in particular understand this?

10. With which characters in Plain Truth do you most closely identity? Why?

11. Reread the epigraph that opens the books. Why do you suppose Jodi Picoult chose to begin with this particular Amish school verse? In what ways does it speak to the central tension which drives Plain Truth — the tension between the strictures and codes of Amish life and those of the American justice system (and, by proxy, of American culture writ large)?

12. How does Ellie's role as Katie's defense attorney become blurred with her role as a sort of surrogate mother to Katie? And what is being intimated when Ellie, after insisting that Katie's case "isn't about me," privately admits that she "wasn't telling the truth"? Is Katie's case, in a certain sense, very much about Ellie? Explain. What bearing does Ellie's childlessness initially have on her relationship with Katie, and on her approach to the case? How does the dynamic between these two women shift once Ellie discovers she is pregnant with Coop's child?

13. "We all have things that come back to haunt us," Adam Sinclair tells Katie at one point. "Some of us juts see them more clearly than others." Discuss the ways in which the ghosts of past events come to haunt the present action in Plain Truth. Of all the book's characters, who would you say finally come to "see" things most clearly? Ellie? Jacob? Sarah? Explain.

14. One of the primary "ghosts" of Picoult's storyline is the specter of Ellie and Coop's ill-fated affair back in college. What happened back then? How has the experience colored and complicated Ellie's life choices, whether personal or professional, ever since?

15. In continuation with the previous two questions, consider other "ghosts" from the past which haunt and presage the novel's present action. For instance, how does Jacob's decision to leave the farm and family to pursue life as a secular scholar bear directly upon Katie's plight, particularly in light of her estrangement from her father and community? And what is the legacy, brought to bear during her stay in Paradise, of Ellie's previous track record as a defense attorney committed to attacking her cases with a sort of "by-any-means-necessary" ethos, regardless of guilt or innocence? To what degree would you say Jacob and Ellie, in the course of this novel, are liberated from their pasts?

16. Imagine an alternate telling of this story in which instead of Ellie, it was Katie or Sarah relating her experiences to us in the first person. How would it have colored our perception of events?

17. What are the central themes of Plain Truth? What does Picoult seem to be saying about notions of tradition, family, religion, and community in modern life?

18. What did you learn about Amish life in reading this novel?

19. Ellie Hathaway is a protagonist who finds she must come to painful terms with the choices she has made in life. Even when we meet her at the start of Plain Truth, she appears to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Unpack the emotional baggage underlying her ordeal. Describe the extreme change Ellie undergoes in the course of her stay on the Fisher farm. What effect does the intimate relationship she forges with Katie have on her sense of self, and on the way she approaches her role as a defense attorney?

20. How do Ellie's perceptions of faith and prayer evolve during her stay at the Fisher farm? Discuss the scene that finds Ellie kneeling with the family to recite the Lord's Prayer. What is going on here? In a community "where sameness was so highly valued," where submission to a higher power is paramount, what happens to Ellie's previously unquestioned ideas and/or hang-ups about professional success, motherhood, commitment, and emotional dependence?

21. What kind of future so you see for Ellie and Coop? For Katie and Samuel? Jacob and his Plain heritage? Sketch out a hypothetical epilogue that takes place five years after Ellie's final conversation with Sarah at the close of the book.

22. Discuss the significance and layered meanings behind the title of Picoult's novel. For instance, in the realm of this story, is "Plain truth" a different sort of truth than "plain truth"?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide


Plain Truth

Readers guide

Introduction

In Plain Truth, Jodi Picoult treats us to a richly appointed portrait of intersecting faiths, ambivalent family dynamics, erotic awakenings, community scandals, courtroom machinations, and the ethical compromises of legal defense -- all filtered compellingly into a taut and intricate narrative that doles out fresh revelations and mounting suspense with each new chapter.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Must "like the patches that make up a quilt," Picoult deliberately brings together in a single narrative two starkly different and often clashing cultures and ideologies; she highlights the tensions between them, and also underscores their inherent similarities. Discuss Picoult's writing style. What techniques does she use to establish the novel's tone, to develop her characters' oft-concealed motives, and to achieve this overall "quilt"-like effect?

2. Critics have suggested that what makes Picoult such a unique and effective novelist among contemporary writers is her firm grasp of the delicacy and complexity of human relationships. How is this quality particularly apparent in Plain Truth?

3. Furthermore, like precious few novels today, Picoult's books thoughtfully contend with the significance and mechanics of spirituality in an increasingly secular culture. In fact, USA Today observed that what makes Keeping Faith [a previous Picoult bestseller] especially remarkable is the way it "makes you wonder about God. And that is a rare moment, indeed, in modern fiction." Could the same be said of Plain Truth? Explain. What aspects of this novel particularly resonated with you?

4. How would you describe this novel to a friend? Is it a suspense novel? A love story? A legal thriller? An exploration of modern culture and morality? A study of human psychology and character motivation? What makes Plain Truth stand out among contemporary novels? To what degree does Picoult refresh or even redefine the various fictional genres with which this novel might be associated?

5. Identify the narrative techniques Picoult employs to draw you into Katie Fisher's plight. Why do we care so much about her? How does her specific situation come to touch upon such timeless and universal issues as community estrangement and forbidden love?

6. How accurate is it to say that, as readers, we approach this novel in much the same way Ellie approaches Katie's case: as aliens to the Amish lifestyle, and as onlookers painfully unsettled by the horrendous crime with which Katie is charged?

7. What kind of man is Aaron Fisher? As you were reading, what were your reactions to his choices? What motivates him? If we had to, how could we make a case for defending Aaron's code of life, his propensity to put the community about the individual? What compels him to adhere so strictly to the laws and traditions of the Amish faith, even when it means severing all ties with his only son?

8. On the face of things, Sarah Fisher appears to be a woman willing to submit wholly to her husband's word and will. Does this assessment bear out in the end? Looking back through the novel, identify the subtle clues and telling bits of dialogue which Picoult lays out to lead us toward Sarah's astonishing revelation at the end of the novel. What does motherhood finally mean to Sarah Fisher?

9. "You know how a mother would do anything, if it meant saving her child," Sarah tells Ellie. And earlier on, ostensibly referring to her ability to butcher chickens without remorse, Sarah pointedly tells Ellie, "I do what I have to do. You of all people should understand." What is Picoult up to here? Why would Ellie in particular understand this?

10. With which characters in Plain Truth do you most closely identity? Why?

11. Reread the epigraph that opens the books. Why do you suppose Jodi Picoult chose to begin with this particular Amish school verse? In what ways does it speak to the central tension which drives Plain Truth -- the tension between the strictures and codes of Amish life and those of the American justice system (and, by proxy, of American culture writ large)?

12. How does Ellie's role as Katie's defense attorney become blurred with her role as a sort of surrogate mother to Katie? And what is being intimated when Ellie, after insisting that Katie's case "isn't about me," privately admits that she "wasn't telling the truth"? Is Katie's case, in a certain sense, very much about Ellie? Explain. What bearing does Ellie's childlessness initially have on her relationship with Katie, and on her approach to the case? How does the dynamic between these two women shift once Ellie discovers she is pregnant with Coop's child?

13. "We all have things that come back to haunt us," Adam Sinclair tells Katie at one point. "Some of us juts see them more clearly than others." Discuss the ways in which the ghosts of past events come to haunt the present action in Plain Truth. Of all the book's characters, who would you say finally come to "see" things most clearly? Ellie? Jacob? Sarah? Explain.

14. One of the primary "ghosts" of Picoult's storyline is the specter of Ellie and Coop's ill-fated affair back in college. What happened back then? How has the experience colored and complicated Ellie's life choices, whether personal or professional, ever since?

15. In continuation with the previous two questions, consider other "ghosts" from the past which haunt and presage the novel's present action. For instance, how does Jacob's decision to leave the farm and family to pursue life as a secular scholar bear directly upon Katie's plight, particularly in light of her estrangement from her father and community? And what is the legacy, brought to bear during her stay in Paradise, of Ellie's previous track record as a defense attorney committed to attacking her cases with a sort of "by-any-means-necessary" ethos, regardless of guilt or innocence? To what degree would you say Jacob and Ellie, in the course of this novel, are liberated from their pasts?

16. Imagine an alternate telling of this story in which instead of Ellie, it was Katie or Sarah relating her experiences to us in the first person. How would it have colored our perception of events?

17. What are the central themes of Plain Truth? What does Picoult seem to be saying about notions of tradition, family, religion, and community in modern life?

18. What did you learn about Amish life in reading this novel?

19. Ellie Hathaway is a protagonist who finds she must come to painful terms with the choices she has made in life. Even when we meet her at the start of Plain Truth, she appears to be in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Unpack the emotional baggage underlying her ordeal. Describe the extreme change Ellie undergoes in the course of her stay on the Fisher farm. What effect does the intimate relationship she forges with Katie have on her sense of self, and on the way she approaches her role as a defense attorney?

20. How do Ellie's perceptions of faith and prayer evolve during her stay at the Fisher farm? Discuss the scene that finds Ellie kneeling with the family to recite the Lord's Prayer. What is going on here? In a community "where sameness was so highly valued," where submission to a higher power is paramount, what happens to Ellie's previously unquestioned ideas and/or hang-ups about professional success, motherhood, commitment, and emotional dependence?

21. What kind of future so you see for Ellie and Coop? For Katie and Samuel? Jacob and his Plain heritage? Sketch out a hypothetical epilogue that takes place five years after Ellie's final conversation with Sarah at the close of the book.

22. Discuss the significance and layered meanings behind the title of Picoult's novel. For instance, in the realm of this story, is "Plain truth" a different sort of truth than "plain truth"?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 536 )
Rating Distribution

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(283)

4 Star

(148)

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(62)

2 Star

(24)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 538 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent tale starring Amish

    She turned her back on love two decades ago because she needed to prove to herself that she could do it alone by climbing to the top of a prestigious law firm. Philadelphia attorney Ellie Hathaway obtains an acquittal for her client, which earns her a job offer from one of the legal elite firms. However, instead of elation, Ellie feels guilty for gaining freedom for a pediophile who molested at least six children. Ellie walks out on her lover of eight years, seeking sanctuary with her aunt in the heart of Amish Country East Paradise, Lancaster County. <P>Shortly after her arrival, Ellie is asked to take on the case of eighteen-year-old Amish woman Katie Fisher, accused of killing her newborn child. Katie hid her pregnancy before she went to the family barn to give birth by herself. She wrapped her baby in a shirt and fell asleep. When the teen awakened, the infant was gone. Later the dead child was found and Katie accused of smothering the baby. Ellie agrees to take on an ¿Old Order¿ client that the lawyer thinks is guilty in an English court. <P>Judy Picoult is a gifted storyteller whose compelling works profoundly impact her audience. Anyone who wants a glimpse at the Amish culture will want to read PLAIN TRUTH. The complex charcaters appear more like multi-dimensional people who capture a niche in the reader¿s heart. If justice is served, Ms. Pisault will become a best-selling author for this warm insightful novel. <P>Harriet Klausner

    21 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 16, 2011

    thought I'd hate it but the opposite happened

    I am a Picoult fan but when I first purchased this book, I was skeptical. The Amish...really? In a Picoult book? It was AWESOME and I found myself not being able to put the book down. I love books like that!

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    excellent

    The Amish aren't known for violence, yet in "The Plain Truth", a peaceful Amish girl is charged with murdering her baby. I will admit that I did anticipate the twist in the end that the book was leading up to, but Jodi's style kept me engrossed in the story. She always has strong characters with depth and makes me, the reader, actually care about what happens to them. (If I remember correctly, I bawled while reading "My Sister's Keeper"...)

    I always learn from Jodi, too. I had no idea about 1/2 of what she wrote about the Amish. People have these preconceived notions that aren't true at all. For example, did you know that during their teen years, their parents allow them to get a taste of the Englisch world? They run around in gangs and their parents are more lenient, though fervently hope that the teen decides to be baptized in the Amish faith when the time comes. She also had a character who was a ghost-hunter, who made a good point about ghosts; physics states that energy cannot be destroyed, so when someone dies, where does their energy go?

    Jodi makes me think. Which is why I love her. She has never disappointed me, and I love how she seems to pick her topics straight out of the headlines of the news. (Read "19 Minutes"...talk about a different perspective...) Keep writin' 'em, Jodi, and I'll keep readin' 'em!

    12 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2011

    Must Read!!!

    This is one of my favorite books by Jodi Picoult and I think that it's a great book for young women. I highly recommend this book for book clubs as its very open for opioins an so forth. Again-it's a must read and am sure everyone will enjoy it!!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 13, 2010

    Buy the book

    Buy the book...reading it on the Nook is difficult. There are so many typos in the Nook version, it distracts from the book.

    8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2008

    jodi picoult

    The first book I ever read of Picoult's was My Sister's Keeper and it was a must read. I couldn't put it down. I haven't felt that same way about any of her other books, I found them hard to get in to. I just read the Plain Truth and, finally, I feel like I'm reading a book just as compelling as My Sister's Keeper. I never thought a book set in Lancaster county could be so interesting. Clearly, Picoult is a master at her craft, and I'm glad to have found a second book in her collection to feel so strongly about.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 4, 2011

    Good Read

    I have read a few books by Jodi Picoult. She is a good writer and this is a good read. Sometimes some of the references she makes are unnecessary in the story and even boring; for instance in this story there are references to ghost hunters(the story totally didn't need this. There's not an obscene amount, but enough to make you wonder if it is going to become an important part of the storyline at some point), but overall-she is talented at telling the stories of us, humans. If you like novels about life, people, and the things we do-she is a good author for that. Your money will not be wasted.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2006

    Not worth the paper it's written on

    I would have given it negative stars if I could. It was so simply written I thought maybe a 10 year old wrote it. There was no research done at all about the law, the Amish, or anything. It's like the author just sat down one day and said, 'I think I'll write a book where an attorney (note to self - look up what an attorney does) defends an Amish person (note to self - look up what the Amish are). Ok, that was harsh, but really, anyone could have written this book. If you're a simple minded person who likes to be able to guess the end of the book by the first few pages and then be right at the end - you'll love this book.

    5 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2000

    Plain Goodness

    What a book! I couldn't put it down. Ms. Picoult's style of writing flows so easily. The characters are so descript, by the end of the book you'll think you where friends. Ms. Ellie Hathaway is lovable and hatable as you watch her personality in action. Her brilliance shines through as an attorney and the twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat. This is one book where you'll figure out the ending at the true end. A delight to read. I can't wait to read the rest of Ms. Picoult's books.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Read this!!!!

    Jodi has done it again! This drew me in right away, and I literally had a hard time putting this down, even to eat and sleep. Done in a day! And that doesn't mean it's a "Costco sampler" book. This book is a full- meal deal, from compelling characters, to moral dilemmas. If Picoult ever reads these reviews, (well, a girl can dream, can't she?), sequels would be great. I'd love to find out what happens to Katie and Ellie as they continue on. I've read so many books this year already, but this is one, so far, that really "ranks". A book to keep!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2011

    Freakin awesome

    I loved this book! It sounds like a weird topic, but it is so interesing. You never know whats coming next, and it is hard to put down!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2005

    Strong Characters Weak Ending

    My wife, whose mind I adore, first turned me on to Picoult a few years ago. Ever since, I have read numerous books by said author. But Plain Truth wasn't my favorite. Although, Picoult has a flair for character development by bringing the reader inside the psyche of most of Plain Truth's characters, she falls short on her presentation of conflict resolution and character consistency. Her characters are flawed and we love them for that they are believeable. In reading Picoult's presentation of character relations (e.g. Katie and Adam Ellie and Coop) we can't help but notice our own relationships therfore, the catharsis is the thing wherein she catches the conscience of the . . . reader. The plot clips along carefully giving the reader enough questions to require luminous midnight page-turning sessions. I simply couldn't put the novel down at times, and I love when that happens. However, the denoucement, although a classic Picoult twist, is anything but satisfactory. The reader discovers small character inconsistencies in hindsight, and this becomes discrediting. The story's characters still reverberate in my mind, however. And as Martha Stewart would say, 'That's a good thing.' Salem Falls, Second Glance, and Keeping Faith still remain my favorite Picoult works. I am, however, still plowing the casm of the Picoult canon.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2009

    Plain Truth, Plain Good

    An interesting premise--dead newborn baby, Amish dairy farm and an eighteen year old girl who can't remember what happened. Learned a few things about the Amish, like they don't shun using things us Englishers take for granted, lighting, bathrooms, things like that. I don't think this is my favorite Jodi Picoult book, so far My Sister's Keeper still holds that spot,although I will add to my library of keepers. This book lack Picoult's usual shocking twist, was not quite as surprised at this ending. Characters are well developed, some the readers will love individuals in the story more than others. A good read all in all.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2014

    Perfect Read

    It was everything I expected from Picoult and more. Surprising and thrilling throughout the entire book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2012

    Very well written.

    Very well written.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2012

    Yes

    Picult does it again! Loved this book....and the ending was a jaw dropper

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2012

    Love it

    I am so happy that i read this book it was great! I was really able to get into it and you should really read it. O ya one more thing if u r reading this review plz stop havin convos on here if you are doing so.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    Great

    Great book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2012

    Love books

    Amish meets interesting, great book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012

    Awesome

    This is by far my favorite book. Almost nothing coould top it!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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