Promise to Cherish

Written by Elizabeth Byler Younts
Review by Viviane Crystal

In 1945 Amish men who refused to participate in military combat were sent to places where they could serve America in WWII without having to bear arms. Eli Brennerman is such an Amish conscientious objector. After months of tedious labor digging ditches for six days a week in the Civilian Public Service Unit of the military, Eli is transferred to Hudson River State Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York where he will serve as an attendant. There he meets Christine Freeman, a nurse who is forced to work at the hospital because she is the sole financial supporter of her family now that she’s lost her brothers in the war and her crippled father is unable to find a decent job.

This is the story of how love blooms between Eli and Christine. It includes enduring the terrible conditions that are a daily reality for the mentally challenged of that time, the hatred that men like Eli endured for refusing to kill, the growing realization for Eli that he is as guilty of violence and other sins as any other man who fought in the war, and the tragic violent act of another man who likes to hurt and kill other human beings. Christine will eventually come to love the Amish community, but only after she is refused understanding and instead is falsely judged for one evening’s trauma and being an “outsider.” Younts depicts the issues of conscientious objectors, the state of mental health hospitals and Amish beliefs and practices to readers in potent, obviously well-researched, heart-rending and thoroughly engaging scenes. Well-crafted historical fiction about a topic deserving of more attention.