Plain: A Memoir of Mennonite Girlhood (Living Out: Gay and Lesbian Autobiog) (Hardcover)
Plain tells the story of Mary Alice Hostetter’s journey to define an authentic self amid a rigid religious upbringing in a Mennonite farm family. Although endowed with a personality “prone toward questioning and challenging,” the young Mary Alice at first wants nothing more than to be a good girl, to do her share, and—alongside her eleven siblings—to work her family’s Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, farm. She feels fortunate to have been born into a religion where, as the familiar hymn states, she is “safe in the arms of Jesus.” As an adolescent, that keen desire for belonging becomes focused on her worldly peers, even though she knows that Mennonites consider themselves a people apart. Eventually she leaves behind the fields and fences of her youth, thinking she will finally be able to grow beyond the prohibitions of her church. Discovering and accepting her sexuality, she once again finds herself apart, on the outside of family, community, and societal norms.
This quietly powerful memoir of longing and acceptance casts a humanizing eye on a little-understood American religious tradition and a woman’s striving to grow within and beyond it.
About the Author
Mary Alice Hostetter grew up the tenth of twelve children in a Mennonite farm family and is a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. While pursuing a career in education and human services, with a brief lapse into cheesemaking and restaurant management, she has studied writing whenever and wherever she could.
“They were not all wrong, our faith communities of origin, and yet—I’m pretty sure, most days—they were wrong about us: their LGBTQ+, feminist, progressive, misfit members. So we go on, missing them, loving them, wishing they’d be different, and reinventing ourselves from the materials they provided. If this is your path, Mary Alice Hostetter is walking with you. Her memoir is a deeply honest, forthright, and forgiving account of finding her way as a gay Mennonite. This book shows how we the misplaced faithful take the truths of our upbringing to create beautiful stories, homes, and lives.”—Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl
“Filled with engrossing details. . . . While Plain recounts Hostetter’s emergence from her upbringing, the memoir is balanced by its innate appreciation of Mennonite culture. The focus on craftsmanship and hard work, the communal caring for the elderly, and even the daily journals Hostetter’s mother kept for decades indicate a devout and distinct collective purpose. Engaging and reflective, Plain is a complex memoir about moving beyond the Mennonite faith while maintaining an integral connection to its lessons.”—Foreword Reviews
"The prose is sharp and evocative . . . and Hostetter’s searching account of wrestling with her faith resonates. The result is an excellent meditation on faith and community."—Publishers Weekly
“Mary Alice Hostetter tells an authentic and evocative story. . . . These moving, tenderly rendered essays straddle the line between Hostetter expressing a fervent desire to leave her upbringing and way of life, while also finding pride and nostalgia for where she came from. . . . Readers are the blessed beneficiaries of her early formations and experiences, as without them, she would not have become such a sensitive, perceptive and wise writer.”—Kathleen Gerard, Shelf Awareness
"Hostetter's writing is lovely and evocative of place and emotion. Readers will enjoy sinking into this quietly empowering story of coming into one's own."—Booklist
“[A] slim and graceful memoir.”—Karla Strand, Ms. Magazine
“While Plain is a quiet memoir, it’s not a slow read. Mary Alice uses humor, yearnings, and curiosity to build dramatic tension within the mundane experiences of farm life. . . . The care she uses to develop this world in early chapters gave me a deep appreciation for the culture in which she grew up and deep empathy for the longings she faced within this world that served her yet didn’t fully see her. . . . Not all rebellions need to be loud and in your face. Sometimes the quieter ones have the greatest power.”—Hippocampus Magazine
“[A] powerful memoir. . . . Very highly recommended.”—Midwest Book Review