I’ve always been interested in aberrant minds, people who think differently from the rest of us, and in aberrant religious groups, group that detour from orthodox Christianity into a spiritual path that obviously has its roots in Christianity, but doesn’t adhere to Biblical teaching. The Shakers of nineteenth century America were such a group.
Anna’s World is a Shaker world. When Anna is first left at the Shaker colony of Goshen by her bereaved and destitute father, she doesn’t understand how anyone can live according to Shaker rules and regulations. The Shakers were a “plain people” believing in plain dress and in simplicity in lifestyle. They also believed that the sin that condemned Adam and Eve was the sin of having sexual relations. (The Shakers and Phillip Pullman— what a combination!) So all Shakers were required to live celibate lives. They also held all possessions in common and owned no personal property. Anna is only fourteen when the story begins and not too concerned about relationships with boys, but she does find it difficult to follow all the rules that the Shakers have to regulate daily life. She longs for the day when her father will return to take her to Boston to live with him again.
In the meantime Anna makes friends at Goshen and becomes accustomed to Shaker life. When her father does return after she has experienced a long year of Shaker living, she realizes that her life will never be the same as it was before the flood and disease that destroyed their old life. Anna’s World is a coming of age story with a twist: Anna decides to enter a religious life and a world that her father will never understand or approve.
Although this book presents a seemingly accurate picture of Shaker life and of a young girl who is welcomed into a cultic group that has both a good side and some more questionable practices, I would not recommend it for children. It would require more discernment than an eight year old would typically have, even though the blurb on the back of the book says “for ages 8 and up.” The subject matter is much more appropriate for high school students, and even some adults, maybe those who are interested in the whole “Amish fiction” craze, would enjoy this story. Anna’s World was nominated for Cybils Middle Grade Fiction, but I would recommend it as young adult fiction. I just don’t think the 8-13 year old crowd would be very interested.
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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.