The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim was published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (2013). It is subtitled a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter.

Young Rachel Stoltzfus comes to Tennessee to help Leah, who is very ill, care for her family. Leah’s family is part of the Old Order Mennonites who have moved from Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Soon after her arrival, Rachel becomes pregnant and has a child. People within the community whisper about the identity of the baby’s father, but Rachel refuses to tell who he is. Around the time of the child’s birth the bishop of the community dies and his son, Tobias, assumes the position of bishop.

Rachel’s sister becomes very ill and is hospitalized. While visiting Leah, Tobias informs Rachel that she cannot return to Leah’s home. Rachel is to be shunned and she must leave the community. She is upset that her child should be treated in this way. With no place to go, she turns to Ida Mae Speck, a person who gave her a ride. Ida Mae does business with the Amish and Mennonite community at her store. She opens her small home to Rachel and her son.

Life seems to further unravel for Rachel. Her parents sell their home in Pennsylvania and move to Tennessee, and her son is diagnosed with cancer. He undergoes an unsuccessful round of chemotherapy. The doctor suggests a bone marrow transplant. The suggestion thrusts the question of the boy’s parentage again into the foreground. His siblings should be tested first to discover if one of them could be a match, but does he have any?

The novel is told from the perspective of Rachel and from that of Amos, the dead bishop and the father of Tobias. Amos tells the story from Heaven and also appears to another character. For me these elements were merely devices the author used for telling a story. I did not view them as a reflection of spiritual reality, and I think mature readers will also understand them that way.

How will Rachel’s sin be forgiven? Will the boy’s father come forward and ask for forgiveness for his sins? During the course of the story Rachel and the others learn the power of forgiveness. They learn to let go of the past and move forward.

I am recommending The Outcast for the College Age/Working Adult category. But I think if high school students are reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, they might benefit from reading The Outcast as well. A Christian or Catholic high school student might ask their teacher if they could do a literary comparative analysis of the two books.

Kristina O’Brien is the mother of twin girls and a new baby boy. She is an avid reader. A credentialed teacher, she has taught both middle school and high school history. Kristina is currently a stay-at-home mom and enjoys raising her children.

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