Book Review: From Plain to Plane

From Plain to Plane: My Mennonite Childhood, A National Scandal, and an Unconventional Soar to Freedom by Patty Bear

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have a story of one woman’s escape from a fanatical father, the circumscribed life he demanded of her, and the simple life of the ‘Plain people.’ Once Ms Bear frees herself of the constraints of her childhood, and navigates away from crushing self-doubt, she rises to the pinnacle of achievement.

Reminiscent of Tara Westover’s ‘Educated,’ Ms Bear’s book takes us behind the scenes of an often violent and disruptive childhood, to her triumph after many harsh realizations, and finally her understanding that she is worthy of far more than her violent and judgmental father believes she is. The awakening is not easy, nor is it pain free. As she writes, ‘being frozen is uncomfortable, but it is nothing compared to the burning agony of thawing.’

Bear writes beautifully, and her story, heartrending at times, infuriating at others, will resonate with anyone trapped in a cultish environment.

The story takes us to a bucolic place and time, with few of the amenities of current life. The author sprinkles in references to lush farm life, the smells, the foods, and the promise of a simple life in her Mennonite community. When her father’s irrational anger against the church boils over, and that life is destroyed, her determination to find something better drives her to succeed. One distinct phrase from her father chills her soul: “You’re on your own,” he says.

Alone in a field one day, newly aware that his words are both warning and liberating, she sees very clearly that she must escape. She hears another voice: “You will have a bigger life.

The author avoids politicizing her situation, or demonizing the church she grew up in. Indeed, she expresses a degree of gratitude that she was born when she was, a time that offers opportunities unimagined by women her mother’s age. ‘Had I been even ten years older, this path would not have been presented to me. I bow my head in gratitude to my courageous…sisters who preceded…and blazed a trail for every woman who followed.’

Finding painful irony in her situation, and hearing again her father’s admonition, she knows she is indeed ‘on her own,’ and realizes that, without her father’s anger and selfishness, she would not have had the impetus to achieve what she did.

The author ends the book triumphant. In an addendum, she advocates for those who speak up, and who refuse to ‘just get over it,’ as she writes. Her treatise on truth, likely learned at the church of her childhood, and reinforced by her father’s emotional abuse, contains instructions for others who wish to escape as she has. In the author’s words: (avoiding the truth) bypasses justice that might be restorative for everyone, including the perpetrator. Or perhaps because it patronizes the injured and overtly suggests they should “just get over” what was done to them, because it’s becoming inconvenient for the rest of us to hear about.”

Ms Bear certainly ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth.’

Four stars, only because this reader felt the heavy use of court testimony and newspaper copy detracted from her brilliant writing.From Plain to Plane: My Mennonite Childhood, A National Scandal, and an Unconventional Soar to Freedom

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