Although technically “romance novels,” these books stand out in the genre. As much as they overlap in plot structure with more traditional romances, they diverge in sexual tone. In this, the books help readers process their experience of a sexualized culture, and allow them to retreat from that culture temporarily. The characters lead moral lives, wear modest clothing, and abstain from sexual expression unless they’re married. Descriptions of women’s physical attributes—the bedrock on which most romance novels are built—are almost absent, which offers a refreshing lack of body objectification. As one characters says of his fiancée in Lewis’s The Shunning, “Of course, a woman’s beauty was not the main consideration when taking a mate, but when a woman was as pretty as Katie Lapp, the spark was stronger.” Additionally, the text is written without even the suggestion of sex, in keeping with the preferences of the genre’s mostly evangelical Christian readership. On her wedding day, for instance, Katie is embarrassed to have to admit she had not remained “pure,” because she had kissed a boy a few years ago. Fifty Shades of Rumspringa, this is not.
So what lies behind the allure of the Amish among evangelical and mainstream audiences alike? Perhaps it’s that the Amish seem like a convenient vehicle for citizens of a quickly modernizing culture to process their own insecurities and the changes they see around them, especially in terms of technology, gender, sexuality, race, and religion.
Interesting take on the current popularity of Amish-themed romances.