Sharon Weston is an up-and-coming young advertising professional who has struggled through a broken relationship with her controlling mother, the breakup with a jealous, unfeeling boyfriend, who functioned as her mentor, and endured the challenges of mastering a new profession. She travels to bucolic Lancaster County, known as PA Dutch Country, to begin a business relationship with a new customer. She meets Michelle and not only finds a business relationship, but develops a warm friendship with her, and amazingly, with her PA Dutch family of Mennonites.
What Sharon doesn't realize is that the pristine quiet countryside is home to a quiet religious society that is outwardly devout and dutiful, and inwardly stressed and struggling.
Michelle Wenger is Sharon's new business contact and friend. She is from a fairly modern family of conservative Mennonites that own a paper products business. And, she is a lesbian in a church and society that has no tolerance for her situation. She has retreated into a solitary lifestyle and yearns for a close relationship to share life's experiences. Sadly, she has resigned herself to never finding the companionship she desires.
Anna and Jacob Stolzfus are an Amish couple, the parents of little Waylon and Sadie, who farm and tend a market stand to make ends meet. While their church preaches separation from the world, they find that it's become increasingly difficult to not only thrive, but to even exist, without contact with the “English” outsiders. Anna, after having two difficult births of her two children, is forced by her church leaders to stop taking the birth control pills that a doctor prescribes to help her gynecological difficulties. The resulting pregnancy is miscarried and she comes close to death. During her ongoing struggle, husband Jacob is philandering with teenage Amish girls who are experiencing the thrill of illicit sex with a married man, while never considering the dire consequences that their church will mete out to them. The last straw comes when Jacob makes a clumsy, but failed, sexual attack on Sharon Weston when she stops to order some woodwork items from him.
The Elders, a five man ruling group of senior Amish churchmen, take steps to control this young family and the illicit behaviors sweeping through their young people. In their cruelty they define Anna's near death experience from the cessation of prescribed drugs as “Gott's wille”, or God's will, for her. They show her no sympathy. The Elders then begin to address the others, and Jacob is the prime candidate for correction.
The story details what happens when innocent church members try to understand and improve their situation and how despotic leaders control and punish anyone they see as an “offender,” often just because the member displays some level of independence. While church members bear the brunt of the horror and cruelty, outsiders, in this case Sharon and Michelle, are deeply affected and become inadvertently involved.