A revelatory look at Amish youth as they have never been looked at before
Rumspringa is a fascinating look at a little-known Amish coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa—the period of "running around" that begins for their youth at age sixteen. Through vivid portraits of teenagers in Ohio and Indiana, Tom Shachtman
offers an account of Amish life as a mirror to the soul-searching and questing that we recognize as a generally intrinsic part of adolescence.
The trappings of the Amish way of life—the "plain" clothes and electricity-free farms—conceal the communities' mystery: how they manage to retain their young people and perpetuate themselves generation after generation. The key to this is the rumspringa, when Amish youth are allowed to live outside the bounds of their faith, experimenting with alcohol, premarital sex, trendy clothes, telephones, drugs, and wild parties. By allowing them such freedom, their parents hope they will learn enough to help them make the most important decision of their lives—whether to be baptized as Christians, join the church, and forever give up worldly ways, or to remain out in the world.
In this searching book, Shachtman draws on his skills as a documentarian to capture young people on the cusp of a fateful decision, and to give us an original and deeply affecting portrait of the Amish as a whole.
A teenage Amish girl sits in her buggy, one hand dangling a cigarette while the other holds a cellphone in which she is loudly chatting away. This girl, like many Amish teens 16 and older, is in a period called rumspringa, when the strict rules of community life are temporarily lifted while an adolescent chooses whether to be baptized into the church and abide fully by its laws. Shachtman, a documentarian who began studying this phenomenon for the film The Devil's Playground, is a sensitive and nimble chronicler of Amish teens, devoting ample space to allowing them to tell their stories in their own words. And their stories are fascinating, from the wild ones who engage in weekend-long parties, complete with hard drugs and sexual promiscuity, to the more sedate and pious teens who prefer to engage in careful courtship rituals under the bemused eyes of adult Amish chaperones. Shachtman's tone is by turns admiring of the work ethic, strong families and religious faith that undergird Amish life and critical, especially of the sect's treatment of women and its suspicion of education beyond the eighth grade. Throughout, Shachtman uses the Amish rumspringa experience as a foil for understanding American adolescence and identity formation in general, and also contextualizes rumspringa throughout the rapidly growing and changing Amish world. This is not only one of the most absorbing books ever written about the Plain People but a perceptive snapshot of the larger culture in which they live and move.