One summer vacation can be enough time to change your life, especially if you’re a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. While hungry for independence and romance, the world is still a mysterious, magical place, often leading to more questions than answers. This is certainly the case for Lenny, a teenager and the main character in Kalona author Thomas Nye’s debut young adult novel, “Under the Heavens.”
Following in a rich tradition of summer adventure novels, “Under the Heavens” is more Dandelion Wine than Hatchet: slowly paced with more emotional adventures than physical.
Lenny is sent to spend the summer with his stepfather’s Amish family, a fate the “city boy” begrudgingly accepts. On the farm, Lenny is tossed into the mix of everyday life and finds himself relegated to caring for the family’s enormous Percheron horses and tending a bean field. He also surprises himself by finding love and a deep connection to his Amish family.
It’s clear Nye has done his research on Amish farming practices, but the sheer amount of time dedicated to Lenny plowing, fertilizing, planting, and weeding makes a good portion of the novel as monotonous as walking the rows on a hot, summer day.
With so much time dedicated to farming minutiae, it’s difficult — at first — to pinpoint an overarching plot to the novel.
However, patient readers are rewarded in the final 100 pages as a series of adventures, including a tornado and a horse pull, test Lenny’s character and force him to consider the importance of faith, forgiveness and family.
The power of this final section challenges readers to forgive Nye’s earlier missteps. If Nye is able to secure a ruthless editor for his next novel (this is the first in a series), these books could become treasures for Iowa readers.