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Fearless Hope

A Novel
By Serena B. Miller

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Fearless Hope includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Serena B. Miller. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


    Introduction

    From beloved author Serena B. Miller comes another Amish love story set in Holmes County, Ohio. The third novel in the series, Fearless Hope, tells the story of the title’s namesake, Hope Shrock. A young mom of two with another baby on the way, Hope is forced to take on work as a part-time housekeeper after she loses her husband suddenly in a tragic farming accident. But working for the new Englisch man in town—Logan Parker—in the house she grew up in proves to be more complicated than Hope could ever have imagined. Together the pair face a tornado, town gossip, and a secret from the past that could make or break their future together. A love story with characters you will recognize from the first two novels, Fearless Hope promises to give the reader hope that love really can conquer all.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. “But it was the running of a farm that fascinated her. It always had . . . [her father] often commented about what a wonderful farmer she would make . . . if she were a man” (page 5). In these first few pages of the novel we meet Hope, a woman who knows she has what it takes to run a farm, but who must work as “an obedient wife” (page 5) and not as a farmer. Does Hope believe in the assigned gender roles in her community? Does she follow them? Are there moments when she relies on her own judgment instead of following the rules of her culture? Had she ignored Titus and insisted she run the farm, do you think her husband would have lived?

    2. Compare and contrast the two settings of the novel: Holmes County, Ohio, and New York City. What does each of these settings represent for Logan? Do the differences between his two homes symbolize the differences between Marla and Hope?

    3. Logan buys the house in Holmes County ultimately because he feels like he belongs there. Is a sense of belonging, a sense of origin, what Logan was missing from his life? Is there any irony to be found in the fact that Logan feels less alone in a big house in the country than in a crowded city apartment?

    4. Why do you think Logan is finally able to overcome his writer’s block in Violet’s store? He describes the store as “energizing” (page 66)—what do you think that means?

    5. Throughout the novel Hope mentions the importance of family, saying “she could not imagine living in a world where she could not go visit her Maam and younger siblings several times a week” (page 140). Do you think that having a family, knowing your roots, is a theme of the novel? Consider both Hope’s and Logan’s points of view in your answer.

    6. Revisit the tender scene on page 143 when Logan watches Hope hang laundry on the line from the upstairs window. He thinks that “Hope made it a thing of beauty” to work around the house, that she “was a study in gracefulness” (page 143) no matter what her task. Is this the moment where Logan falls in love?

    7. The novel is titled Fearless Hope. In what way or ways is Hope fearless? Does she give hope to others in the story? How so?

    8. Consider the ways in which Logan’s old-fashioned home filled with high-tech appliances symbolizes the marriage between Logan and Hope, between modern life and Amish culture. Do the two ways of life complement each other? How so?

    9. Discuss the character of Deborah Parker, Logan’s mother. Do you like her? In what ways does her character change throughout the story?

    10. Even before we learn that Ivan Troyer is Logan’s biological father, he serves a father-like role for Logan, giving him advice, discussing his faith in God, and inviting him into his home to share a meal. Seemingly out of the blue, Ivan tells Logan “peace isn’t about pretty. It isn’t about where you live. It’s about who you live with, and who you live for” (page 150). Do you think Logan’s journey is about finding peace within? Is he successful? In the end, who does Logan live for? Is this a different version of Logan from the Logan at the start of the novel?

    11. “I’m wondering what good they do, these books you spend your life writing” (page 186), the bishop tells Logan. What do you think he means by “good” in this context? Does Logan learn to make his books do something good? How?

    12. Discuss Logan’s conversion to faith. Do you agree with him that it is “a lot easier to believe in God when one was surrounded by the vibrant, natural world” (page 230)? Does Holmes County alone open Logan’s eyes to faith, or is it something (or someone) else?

    13. In what way(s) do Logan and Hope “weather” the storm in the novel? Do you read the tornado as a symbol for their unlikely love? Is the tornado ultimately responsible for finally bringing them together?

    14. Revisit the ending of the novel. In what ways does the story come full circle? Do you think Logan and Hope will manage to overcome the difficulties ahead?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. So many of the characters in Fearless Hope are characters who have their stories told in the other novels in the series. Have your book club read Serena Miller’s other two Holmes County novels, An Uncommon Grace and Hidden Mercies. What lessons can be gleaned from all three of the novels? Which story did you feel most connected to and why? In your opinion, is there one character who stands out among the crowd as the real hero?

    2. On page 212 Logan confides to Esther that he’s felt like he has “been wandering around in a dark forest for a long time” and can’t find his way out. This line alludes to Dante’s Inferno, which famously begins “midway on our life’s journey, I found myself in dark woods.” Have a movie night with your book club and watch the 1935 classic Dante’s Inferno. How is Dante’s journey similar to Logan’s journey? How are they different? What do Dante and Logan have in common?

    3. Hope reveals that she had taken to reading about the “virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 every morning” (page 235) in the hopes that she would find strength and guidance in her fight for running Logan’s farm, a job her community feels is inappropriate for any woman but especially a widow with young children. Read Proverbs 31 aloud to your book club and afterward meditate in silence on the passage. Then, share with your book club the message as you understand it. Does it make sense that Hope would use this passage for guidance? What do you need guidance on in your life? Does Proverbs 31 help you as it helped Hope? Share your feelings with your book club.

    4. When Logan and Deborah Parker confess the truth to the Troyer family, they are shocked to discover that Deborah is forgiven, that the family believed “God might have used [Deborah] . . . and [her] weakness . . . to save our son” (page 295). The Troyer family really believes that God works in mysterious ways, and despite their heartache, they forgive Deborah for taking their son and even appreciate that she likely saved him from drowning. Over dinner, share with your book club a time when you felt God was working in mysterious ways in your life. Did it take time for you to realize God’s presence?

    A Conversation with Serena B. Miller

    You choose to tell the story from both Logan’s and Hope’s points of view. What drove this decision? What effect does it have on the story? Ultimately, does this story belong to Logan, Hope, or the two of them?

    Serena Miller: I always enjoy getting deep into both my main characters’ heads. I think this helps keep the writing fresh—especially in a love story. Ultimately, I felt like this story belonged to Logan, but perhaps that’s only because as a writer I identified more strongly with him. Hope was harder for me because I’m not a farmer. I do, however, have an older sister who can grow absolutely anything and has spent most of her life running an organic farm.

    Fellow author Ann H. Gabhart has said of your work that you breathe “such life into [your] characters they almost leap off the page into your imagination.” Are any characters based on real people, or are they entirely fictional? Which character is your favorite in the story and why?

    My characters are mostly fictional except for where I drew heavily upon my sister’s skills in developing Hope’s dreams for the future. Logan’s mother was based on a passage I ran across years ago about mental compartmentalization and how some people who have done very bad things sometimes compensate by becoming ultragood in every other aspect of their life. My favorite character was the grandmother who diligently prayed for her lost grandson even when common sense would have made most people give up. She reminds me of my mother-in-law, who has diligently and successfully prayed for family members when most people would have given up.

    Along similar lines, where do you get inspiration for your characters? Do you interview your neighbors in your local Amish community?

    Actually, I spend a lot of time in Holmes County, Ohio, which is the largest Amish community in the world. It is only three hours from my home and has a greater diversity from which to draw than the small, new settlement near me. I have many close Amish and Mennonite friends in the Holmes County area. I try not to “interview” my Amish friends, but I do care deeply about their beliefs, struggles, and dreams.

    Do you consider Hope something of a renegade in the Amish community?

    I don’t think of her as a renegade as much as a mother who is desperate to provide a better life for her family—even if not everyone approves of her choices.

    Like the Troyer family, you and your family have been involved in ministry work. Briefly describe the work you’ve done with your husband. Did this ministry inspire the Troyer family’s?

    In 2005, my husband and oldest son went to Haiti to help show Haitians how to use an inexpensive water purification system. Their report, upon their return, encouraged our home congregation to become a much more mission-oriented church. Our church has now sent multiple mission groups to both Haiti and Honduras. Our immediate family created a common bank account into which we contribute windfall money to make it possible for family members to go on mission trips without having to ask our church for financial help. We are far from the level of involvement of the Troyer family, but we’re working toward that goal.

    Fearless Hope is a story full of light and dark, happiness and sadness. Do you think it’s necessary in fiction to have a mix of both? What about in real life? Can we have love without hate, peace without unrest?

    I would be uncomfortable writing inspirational fiction that gives the reader the impression that the Christian life is easy. This life was never meant to be easy—but God does make it possible to have great joy and hope in spite of experiencing the inevitable sorrows and challenges of life.

    Share with us your literary influences. Who do you read for inspiration?

    I seldom read fiction anymore. Now that I’ve studied the writing craft for so long, I find it hard to lose myself in a story without analyzing structure, etc. I’ve heard other writers complain of the same problem. There comes a point when it is difficult for a writer to suspend the critical brain long enough to be swept away. As a younger woman, though, I saturated myself with so many wonderful authors: Willa Cather, Margaret Mitchell, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Later in life I discovered Allan Eckert’s scholarly historical works and read all of them. Now, with time so limited, most of my reading involves research.

    Why do you think it is important to share stories of the Amish? Do you hope to break any stereotypes with these novels?

    If I can break stereotypes, I would be very happy. One of the biggest mistakes tourists make when they come to Amish country is to assume that uniformity of clothing means a uniformity of personality. My Amish friends are varied and interesting. Many have a great sense of humor. Most struggle with many of the same problems the rest of us have. The difference is that, as a people, they consistently try to apply godly principles to their lives in practical ways. I think there are good things we can all learn from them. I certainly have been blessed by my association with them.

    Have you ever experienced writer’s block like Logan? How did you overcome it?

    I came so close to burnout this past year that I was afraid I would never write again. For most of my life I loved the process of writing and I dreamed of becoming a published writer. Then the reality of meeting deadlines, doing PR, keeping up with social media, and worrying about reviews hit and I almost allowed it to destroy my desire to write. How did I overcome it? Like Logan, I began to write completely outside my genre. It happened accidentally. I took a train trip to visit a relative and was on Facebook talking with friends about the experience, when someone suggested that I write a story called “Murder on the Texas Eagle.” For the sheer fun of it, I began writing a cozy mystery about an old, opinionated Kentucky woman. Suddenly, writing was enjoyable again. I knocked out a ten-thousand-word story before the trip was over. That led to another cozy mystery and another. Are they award-worthy? Nope. They aren’t even serious writing. But the “Accidental Adventures” of old Doreen Sizemore helped me start writing again. I’ve recently put them up as e-stories just to entertain my friends. These tongue-in-cheek stories fed something inside of me as I wrote them out by hand on yellow legal pads instead of my computer—kind of the equivalent of Logan’s antique typewriter.

    What would you name as the major theme(s) of this story? What do you hope readers will remember about Hope and Logan?

    Hope had to learn to trust her own vision of what obedience to God looked like instead of relying on others to define it for her. Proverbs 31 does talk about a woman buying a field and planting it and selling the produce. Hope depended on the scriptures to determine what was right and wrong and to determine what God’s plan was for her—instead of relying on other people’s opinions. Logan had, in his own way, a similar discovery. This is a story about spiritual obedience in the face of criticism, the incredible power of prayer, and the healing power of forgiveness. Ultimately it is—like all my other books—a story about hope.

    Is Fearless Hope the last book in the series? Do you have any plans for a new writing project you can share with us?

    This is the last book that will use the characters of this series. I doubt this will be my last work of fiction involving the Amish. However, at the present time I’m deeply involved in writing a nonfiction book entitled The Wisdom of Amish Parenting, which I hope will give non-Amish parents some pointers about the peace I’ve seen in Amish homes that I think would help us manage our own stress-filled lives a little better.

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