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Somewhere to Belong

November 17th, 2010

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Book Overview:

Johanna Ilg has lived her entire life in Main Amana, one of the seven villages inhabited by devout Christians who believe in cooperative living, a simple lifestyle, and faithful service to God. Although she's always longed to see the outside world, Johanna believes her future is rooted in the community. But when she learns a troubling secret, the world she thought she knew is shattered and she is forced to make difficult choices about a new life and the man she left behind. Berta Schumacher has lived a privileged life in Chicago, and when her parents decide they want a simpler life in Amana, Iowa, she resists. Under the strictures of the Amana villages, Berta's rebellion reaches new heights. Will her heart ever be content among the plain people of Amana?

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Fiction Books Johanna Ilg has lived her entire life in Main Amana, one of the seven villages inhabited by devout Christians who believe in cooperative living, a simple lifestyle, and faithful service to God. Although she's always longed to see the outside world, Johanna believes her future is rooted in the community. But when she learns a troubling secret, the world she thought she knew is shattered and she is forced to make difficult choices about a new life and the man she left behind. Berta Schumacher has lived a privileged life in Chicago, and when her parents decide they want a simpler life in Amana, Iowa, she resists. Under the strictures of the Amana villages, Berta's rebellion reaches new heights. Will her heart ever be content among the plain people of Amana?
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  1. solosulo
    November 17th, 2010 at 09:19 | #1


    This book was really enjoyable. I picked this book up at a yard sale with 7 other Judith Miller books for 25 cents each. I thought it might be interesting to read a fiction book as I usually read non-fiction. The book was fast moving and held my attention. It was long and I really felt like I would have gotten my money’s worth if I had paid full price.

    I can’t wait to read another one so I’m downloading an ebook by the same author since I am out of town!

    I really enjoyed the detail the author provided about the ways and mindset in the Amana colonies. She did her homework that’s for sure.

  2. Lori H. Poppinga
    November 18th, 2010 at 15:28 | #2


    Somewhere to Belong tells the story of two girls from very different backgrounds: one, Berta Schumacher, a priviledged girl from Chicago refuses to live the simple life in the Iowa Amana Colony, where her parents have decided to reside; the other, Johanna Ilg was raised in the Amana Colonies and has embraced the simple life until new information about her past challenges everything she’s been raised to believe is true. Johanna and Berta are forced to spend time together as they live in the same house. Johanna is assigned the daunting task of teaching Berta the simple ways of Amana life both publicly and privately. Berta tests Johanna’s patience, but also tempts her to look outside of the world she was raised in for the the answers to her newly found questions. Berta’s antics are hilarious and Johanna’s frustration in realistically portrayed in this well written book.

    Miller gives us a glimpse into the private world of the Amana Colonies. I enjoyed reading Somewhere to Belong both for the creative story line and the look into a world with which I am not familiar.

  3. Phee Paradise
    November 18th, 2010 at 22:00 | #3


    Books about the Amish seem to be the current trend in the Christian market. Although not strictly about the Amish, Somewhere to Belong fits right in. The setting is a strict religious community in Iowa in the nineteenth century. The twist is that it is communal and the legalism overshadows the love. Two girls struggle with their place in this community.

    Johanna has been raised in the Amana communities, and loves it. But she is curious about the outside world where her brother has fled, and wants to visit Chicago, just once. Berta was raised in Chicago by her rich parents who have decided to simplify their lives by moving to the Amana communities. She hates it. The two girls are thrown together because Johanna is expected to teach Berta how to behave. As they get to know each other, they begin to share their inner lives. They also discover that each set of parents is hiding something from their daughters.

    Although the book is written well, and Miller brings the Amana communities to life, I found that I didn’t care a lot about the girls and what happened to them. The pace is slow, Berta is not only predictable, her rebellion is extreme, and the people they both encounter are harsh and unloving. Even the mystery of the parents’ secrets wasn’t enough to hold my interest. Perhaps an adolescent reader would find it more compelling.

    Pros: Good depiction of an alternative lifestyle, with a little mystery to keep the plot moving.

    Cons: Slow start with characters that are hard to care about.

    The original review was posted on Pix-n-Pens [...]

  4. R. Masters
    November 19th, 2010 at 12:37 | #4


    An excellent book that gives a good insight into the Amish lifestyle (and I can only assume that everything portrayed was accurate as I have no way of knowing) but also tells the stories of two young women who are very different from each other but become excellent friends. I liked this book much more than I would have thought.

  5. Susan Hollaway
    November 20th, 2010 at 01:20 | #5


    MY OPINION Miller has yet again woven a story that once you pick up her book, you’re hooked. Her history is impeccably researched, her story extremely well-written, and her descriptions make you feel as if the book is literally unfolding before your very eyes and you’re there. Even if historical fiction is not the first shelf you seek out at the bookstore, you will enjoy this book. Don’t think for a moment that a story about a place and time of a plain people with a simple lifestyle, routine ways, cooperative living, and faithful service to God will be less than exciting or predictable. Au contraire! Get ready for some wonderful “I did NOT see that coming” moments. Somewhere to Belong is the first in Judy’s Daughters of Amana series and I can’t wait to read the second. In the meantime, get your hands on this book and be prepared to sit a spell because you will be enthralled. ABOUT THE BOOK Despite living her entire twenty-one years in Main Amana, Johanna Ilg has always been intrigued by and wanted to see the outside world. However, she has continued to stay in Amana believing that Amana is where she must belong. That is, until a secret is revealed that changes everything about the world she thought she knew. Where does she truly belong? She must confront her family and find out the answers to her questions. Will she break her mother’s heart to seek these answers? Intertwined, is a story of the newest member of Main Amana, Berta Schumacher, a worldly girl with parents who desire a simpler life in Amana, for reasons she can’t fathom. Berta does not share this desire to live such a life as her family and she makes that clear as she openly rebels against the ways of Amana and its people. Will her heart ever soften to the ways of these plain people or will she continue to live a life of rebellion and discontent?

  6. J. Sorensen
    November 21st, 2010 at 15:40 | #6


    Living in Iowa, and having visited the Amana Colonies several times, I was easily drawn to this book. I felt a connection to each character and the challenges they presented. Often the people at Amana are confused with the Amish. They are not the same. This book helps understand this. I found the book difficult to put down, as I was not always able to predict what the characters would do. I found myself wondering what I would have chosen, had I been the different characters in the book. I found this an enjoyable and thought proving read for a break from the routines of life.

  7. snowyowl
    November 21st, 2010 at 23:16 | #7


    Being from an Amish area in New York, I would often see the Amish on the roads with their horse and buggies. They were all dressed alike and I would wonder why. This book was one I could not put down. It helped open my eyes to a lot of what an Amish person’s life is like. I enjoyed this book immensely. It was a fast read and always something happening to one or the other of the featured girls.

  8. PurpleSquirrel
    November 22nd, 2010 at 06:10 | #8


    This was a pleasant read that I could recommend on more than one basis~

    * Historically: I learned a bit about the Amana colonies, a religious colony/commune similar in some ways to the Amish, but very different in others~ (Ever heard of Amana Radar Ranges? So, they don’t show up in this book, but there is history here)

    * Relationally: There are a number of great lessons to be drawn from this book, from parent/young adult to “seasoned” marital/emotional bonds

    * Character-building: Again, some great action/consequence type lessons with themes like honesty and responsibility.

    The Story is told from the first person viewpoint of the two main characters ~ fairly “opposite” girls, Berta, and Johanna. They are both faced with choices and decisions that will affect their lives. There is a side-story going on between Berta’s parents that I greatly enjoyed as well. Over-arching themes of love, honesty, forgiveness and responsibility, crafted into a well-told, engaging story.

    I think this would be a great mid-older teen/mother book club book~ The potential for interesting discussions is huge! :)

    Note~ I received a free copy of this book for review from Bethany House. The opinions in this review are my own, and I was not asked to write a positive review.

  9. Anonymous
    November 22nd, 2010 at 19:43 | #9


    i read this book in two days. just could not put it down. not a book i would normaly read but now i am very happy i did

  10. Martha A.
    November 25th, 2010 at 13:22 | #10


    Somewhere to Belong

    By Judith Miller

    Reviewed by: Martha Artyomenko

    The Amana Colonies…..a religious group that little is published about until recently. This group that came from Lutheran background rather than Catholic like the Anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites and others), but in some ways seem similar to the Hutterites. Their communal lifestyle, and good marketing with inventing things and being responsible for Amana Appliances which is what Whirlpool came from, and were known for their woolen goods as well.

    So, that little history lesson takes us to the Amana colonies in 1877.

    Johanna is given charge to help a newcomer to the society, Berta. Berta does not wish to be here, from wearing a pink skirt under her plain dress, Johanna is frustrated and blamed for her improper behavior.

    Johanna has her own secret though, she has discovered something that may change her life forever. What should she do about it? Should she look outside of Amana for a life?

    Both Berta and Johanna face many changes, restrictions in either world and wonder where they belong? Can they find “Somewhere to belong”?

    My Review:

    I found the history behind the Amana’s interesting. In 1930, they ceased from communal living, but I guess there are still operational churches of this sect that continues to this day. Both Johanna and Berta had to face questions that plague many of us even this day. We don;t have to face judgement for wearing a pink skirt, but I wonder if we thought it would save our family, would we do drastic things to bring a family closer together like the Schumacher family tried to do?

    Can we be content with what we have always known, or is the grass always greener on the other side?

    These are just a few of the questions that were brought up for me while reading this historical fiction novel. -Martha

    Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing this book for review.

  11. Deaver Diva
    November 26th, 2010 at 05:23 | #11


    Overall this was a good story, and an enjoyable read. The characters are well developed and likable. I was troubled by a few plot points that I felt did not fit the people or time, and would have liked the story much better if they had been left out. ( the family ‘secrets’ of both sets of parents) I also thought Berta’s behavior was a bit extreme and unbelievable in places. (the cabbage episode comes to mind)

    But Johanna is easy to root for, and her frustrations seem to transcend the time and place to modern times.

    I did not find the change of voice back and forth from Berta to Johanna distracting.

  12. Nadia N. Rehmani
    November 26th, 2010 at 06:33 | #12


    I enjoyed reading this book some months ago. I always share with my daughter. This was a good book showing the ways of a very strict way of life. They are not as good as the amish books that do allow marriage. I thought she allows for her characters to grow up in this book, which was good. Made me feel like when time goes by often ones feelings change.

  13. GregB
    November 27th, 2010 at 00:03 | #13


    Usually a 5-star rating is reserved by me for books in genres that I most enjoy and books in those genres that I especially enjoy. This book earns its 5-star rating based on the writing and story development.

    There is a richness to the characters Johanna and Berta as well as their families and the people of Amana. You feel like you get to know these people rather than characters in some book. The stories of their lives come alive in a way that pleasantly surprised me.

    Combined with a story that has twists and turns that are unexpected, this is an exceptional book. Perhaps others would predict the ending, but it surprised me (but that is all I will say to prevent spoiling the ending).

    God’s omniscience is a theme throughout this book, but it is not overbearing. Even if you are not a devoted believer, you will enjoy this book.

  14. Sandra
    November 29th, 2010 at 15:15 | #14


    Judith Miller’s book Somewhere To Belong is the first in a series based upon the Amana colonies in Iowa. The colonies were a group of God fearing people who believed in communal living. Their livelihood came from farming and fabric mills. These people of faith believed in spending as much time as possible in studying the Bible and in prayer. They were assigned jobs by a Bruderrat council; the jobs included working with children, gardening, cooking, working in the mills, stable work, and many other duties. They lived a devout, simple, hard working life.

    Johanna had lived all of her life in Main Amana and yearns to see the outside world. She longs to begin her adventure by visiting her brother in Chicago. Berta is a young lady who had lived the life of wealth in Chicago. When Berta’s parents decide to move to the colonies, she struggles to adjust to this new life. Johanna is assigned the responsibility of teaching Berta and the adventure begins. Both young ladies discover that not even parents always live a life free of deceit and both learn the importance of truth and honesty.

    If you enjoy the Amish books that have become popular, then this book will be one that you appreciate. Honestly I did struggle with hearing some of the requirements the families had to live with in the colonies, but the book was interesting, well written and educational.

    Thank you to Bethany House for providing this book for review. 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

  15. P. Smith
    December 1st, 2010 at 07:06 | #15


    I love books that surprise me. :o )

    This book managed to encompass so many elements at once. It is a coming of age story. One of the girls is a young woman, the other a teenager and both grow more into their “skin” as the story progresses. Thrown together because Berta needed someone responsible to train her, neither girl could foresee how much they would need each other for the trials ahead of them or how close they would become.

    It is also a story of family ~ what that means and why it is important. It examines how those bonds hold us together, what can break them apart, and if they can be mended again. I can’t think of a more important topic. And it’s a story of romance (gotta have that) and what makes that a real love or not and how to tell. And of course the love God has for all of us.

    The author pulls all of this off because she invests so much in the characters of Johanna and Berta. Although on the surface the girls may seem near opposites, neither girl is one dimensional and both are easy to love. Johanna is the obedient, responsible daughter. However she sneaks fashions magazines from her brother (who lives in Chicago) in from the outside and hides them in her room and she longs to visit the world outside her village borders. Berta rarely thinks beyond her next opportunity for fun and despises anything resembling work. When told she can’t wear her pink skirt to work in the kitchen, she puts it on underneath the plain skirt so she can still wear it without anyone knowing (or so she plans). She does try to make others happy and cares about people’s feelings far more than even she’s willing to admit. She has a natural gift for cheering people up as well. Both face adversity, mystery, and being lied to by people they have trusted. Both really want to know where they fit in. How they come through the journey is something to behold.

    Judith Miller has done an excellent job with this book.


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