Why can’t we all be a little more like the Amish? This question lies at the heart of the Amish romance novels, churned out now with such regularity—and with such -success—that publishers are beginning to worry that the market is saturated. “We’re seeing Amish fiction splintering into everything imaginable: Shakers, Puritans,” says Steve Oates, marketing vice president for Bethany House, the Christian publisher whose author Beverly Lewis is the biggest name in Amish fiction. “We call it ‘bonnet fiction.’ You slap a bonnet on the cover and double the sales.” The Thorn, Lewis’s most recent book, has sold 280,000 copies since its publication in September. Lewis herself has sold more than 13 million books in all.
Modeled on the bodice rippers that generations of women have read for escape, Amish romances follow familiar plotlines. An innocent girl, torn between a hot, dangerous boy and a cute, upstanding one, has to make a choice. Disapproving parents, difficult siblings, nosy neighbors—not to mention the warring impulses of lust and restraint—need to be wrestled with and vanquished. But in the bonnet books, passion is beside the point. The aspiration here, for the Amish heroine (and, by extension, her readers), is inner peace, a stable and cohesive community, and obedient children—the result of a right relationship with God.