Banished by Linda Byler has Obadiah (Oba) and Merriweather (May) Miller becoming orphans after the death of their parents in Apple Creek, Ohio. None of their local relatives are willing to take them in so the siblings are shipped to Blytheville, Arkansas to live on the cotton farm of Melvin and Gertrude Amstutz. They discover the weather is hot and the days are long on the farm where they are expected to work. It does not take long to learn that no matter how hard they work, they will be treated harshly. Uncle Melvin is forbidding and quick to punish for anything he perceives is wrong. Aunt Gertie does not want to live in Arkansas which has turned her into a bitter, unhappy woman. May is a sweet child who is eager to please. The years pass and life continues to get worse for the siblings. After a particularly cruel beating, Oba disappears leaving May with more work and no one to rely on. One day May meets Clinton while collecting the mail. She is drawn to his kindness and would love a friendship with Clinton. Unfortunately, it is impossible with May being white and Clinton a young black man. Uncle Melvin would whip her senseless if he discovered May with Clinton. May, though, is eager for companionship and find herself sneaking away to meet Clinton. When life becomes unbearable, May knows it is time to escape. The question is how is she going to accomplish it and where will she go.
Banished by Linda Byler is the first novel in The Long Road Home series. Oba and May Miller are eleven and ten when their kind, loving parents die in a tragic accident. They are sent to Arkansas to live when none of their Ohio relatives will take them in. The home of Gertie and Melvin Amstutz is starkly different from how the siblings grew up. Life is bleak, harsh, and hot on the cotton farm. May and Oba are unprepared for the long workdays and the cruelty of their guardians. I thought Banished was well-written with developed, realistic characters. The point-of-view switches between Oba and Mary. While Mary is a sweet girl with strong faith and helpful nature, her brother is angry at God for taking their parents. Oba’s attitude worsens after suffering at the hands of his uncle. Linda Byler is a descriptive writer who brings the scenery to life with her word imagery. The story takes place over a number of years as Oba and May grow from children to teenagers. I could understand Oba’s anger and his desire to escape from his harsh uncle. May is the opposite of her brother. I liked her faith in God, but I did not understand some of the choices she made. Banished is a difficult novel to read because of the violence (whippings, beatings, slaps, and sexual misconduct) and the attitudes. I will never understand why someone is treated differently because of the color of their skin. As May said, “God created us equal, no matter the color of our skin.” This book shows us life during the Depression in Arkansas on an Amish farm. I wish the author had specified the time period at the beginning of the book. I am guessing the tale begins in the late 1920s. Banished is a shocking tale that is nothing like any Amish book that I have ever read. We are left wondering what will happen next with Oba and May. We must wait for the next installment in The Long Road Home series to find out. Banished is a heart wrenching tale with hot heat, blossoming cotton bolls, an angry aunt, an unkind uncle, demanding duties, and cruel cousins.
The Avid Reader
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