The Midwife by Jolina Petersheim
When you read this book, be prepared for an unusual chronology. The prologue is a glimpse into the future, mysterious and puzzling. It does not prepare you for what’s to come, but rather sets the tone for the book.
In the opening chapters we are introduced to Beth Winslow, a graduate student assigned to Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick. To assist in the completion of her Master’s degree, she has agreed to become the gestational surrogate for the doctor and his wife, Meredith. It’s 1995 and soon Beth will be faced with a life changing dilemma.
Then we are transported to the present, 2014, and meet Rhoda Mummau, a midwife for Hopen Haus in the tiny community of Dry Hollow, Pennsylvania. Hopen Haus is a charity home for unwed pregnant girls, run by the Mennonite church. The house had just received some unwelcome (for religious reasons) publicity and out of the past, Rhoda’s past, Ernest Looper shows up and offers his services as handyman. It is clear that he and Rhoda share some type of history.
From then on the story hops from Beth in the past to Rhoda in the present. The author keeps the reader mystified about their connection until about a third of the way through the book when we start to see some patterns.
After the newspaper article about Hopen Haus was published, Amelia arrives. She is pregnant like the other girls and is trying to decide what to do with her life. We begin to see what living at Hopen Haus is like through the eyes of one of the patients. Amelia makes friends with Lydie, a 16-year-old Mennonite living at the Haus until she has her baby. It’s an odd friendship, a rich city girl and a mennonite; but it works.
At first, I found the shifting chronology to be annoying and confusing. It appeared aimless to me until some of the puzzle pieces fell into place. What kept me motivated to read was the desire to make sense of the opening story. Looking back, I can better appreciate the chronology presented since it was the timing of revealed factors that added to the suspense and urgency. I’m still not a fan of this approach, but in this story it serves to increase expectations. I just couldn’t put the book down.
What genre is this book written in? I can tell you better what it is not than what it is. For example, it is not a typical romance although there is a satisfying conclusion and the presence of some romance. It is not a boy meets girl kind of story. Many of the characters are not who they claim to be. Yet this is a story that does not easily fit into the mystery, suspense, or thriller genres. There is some mystery, some suspense, but those are not the driving force. It has more character development than action, so it is not a thriller or an action and adventure book. This is not even a “bonnets” story, even though the midwife, Rhoda, is Mennonite, wears a cape dress, apron, and a prayer kapp. Being Mennonite is pretty much incidental because the central issues revolve around identity, acceptance, pain, loss, hiding, finding love, and resolution. In essence, it is a contemporary tale that deals with some hard-hitting issues at the core. The thought provoking problems seem to have come out of the author’s “what if” file, assuming she has one. I don’t think you can pin a particular genre to this book. As I read, the thing uppermost in my mind was a big question mark.
The segment I found most heartwarming was the friendship Rhoda found in Fanny Graber, the head midwife of Hopen Haus when Rhoda first arrived there pregnant and frightened. A special friendship developed between the elderly Mennonite and the young girl. Rhoda met the Lord because of Fanny. It was the first time she felt completely accepted, wanted and loved. Eventually, Fanny taught her to be a midwife. It was a task Rhoda adopted as her own mission–to care for the girls who came for assistance–even after Fanny had passed on.
There are parts of the book that will grip you and emotionally wring you dry. Most of the accounts are told in the first person, so that the point of view becomes personal to the reader. Toward the end, the resolution includes some twists in the plot that, in spite of a few clues, will still surprise the reader. That said, I still found more satisfaction from the second reading of the book. Once I had more of the pieces in place in my mind, it was easier for me to follow.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley on behalf of Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”