In an engaging personal memoir, Mackall, an Ohio-based writer and professor of English, describes the close-knit relationship he has cultivated over more than a decade with a neighboring Amish family. This is neither an exposé nor an outsider's fanciful romanticization of the Amish. By focusing on the loves and losses of one large Amish clan, Mackall breathes life into a complex group often idealized or caricatured. He refers, for example, not to "the Amish" writ large, but instead to "the Swartzentruber Amish I know," describing in some detail the tremendous differences between the Swartzentrubers, by far the most traditional sect, and the Old Order, New Order, Beachy and other Amish groups. The Swartzentrubers not only eschew electricity but also padded or upholstered chairs, souped-up buggies, indoor plumbing, the tradition of rumspringa (a running-around period for some Amish teens) and—perhaps most important for this narrative—contact with "the English."
Mackall's is the first book to venture behind-the-scenes of this most conservative Amish group. At times Mackall is critical of the Swartzentruber way of life (such as when an eight-year-old girl dies in a buggy accident because the sect rejects safety measures for buggies), but it is a deeply respectful account that never veers toward sensationalism.