By Greta VanDenend
The author of Enemies in the Orchard is Dana Vanderlugt, an ‘01 Hope College graduate and a former Hudsonville middle school English teacher. During her time as a middle school teacher, Dana worked on and received her MFA in Creative Writing from The Sena Jeter Naslund-Karen Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University. Dana currently works for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District as a literacy consultant and has continued her connections to Hope College throughout her career. She taught adjunct in the English department at Hope for several years and currently supports student teachers as one of the Education department’s college supervisors. Perhaps, most importantly, for the sake of this book review, is that Dana came from a family of apple growers in Michigan.
Enemies in the Orchard is a beautiful lyrical war novel in verse based on a true American history story during WWII. It contains a dual perspective between Claire, a Midwestern girl from Michigan eager to enter high school to then become a nurse. On the other hand, there’s Karl from Ulm, Germany. Karl is a German POW who is assigned to work on Claire’s family apple orchard.
We all have encountered moments of choosing which side to follow and how the other is wrong in our current political climate, in schools or campuses and even in our families. While it’s important to form our own beliefs and opinions, choosing harm against the other side is not beneficial.
This is easier said than done.
In the novel, Claire notes Karl’s kindness but struggles to respond,
“I look away,
pick up my pace,
pretend not to notice him.
More worried about being called a traitor
than willing to defend my doubts
than willing to take the risk
of being kind.” (p. 83)
As the story progresses, Claire learns how to see Karl in a different way. She starts to realize what they have in common instead and she starts to learn how to see him beyond what he represents.
“And I hear Karl,
his voice still heavy with regret,
but brave enough
to dare himself to do better.
He quietly prods me to consider
the idea of forgiveness,
the possibility of a fresh start.” (p. 269)
The beautiful thing about Enemies in the Orchard is it is more than just a story of two characters turning from enemies to friends. It convinces us, in gentle ways, to remember our shared humanity and not caricatures of what we are told about “others.” As humans, we are created in the image of God. This means we are more alike than different.
I think this book would be wonderful in middle school curriculums (though I think all of us should read it!), due to the structure of the novel in verse, and the powerful lessons that are taught. These lessons illustrate forgiveness, goodness, morality, and love.
Dana believes in the power of stories to reshape hearts and minds and she has written one that does just that.
Greta VanDenend, born and raised in Holland, Michigan, is a senior at Hope College majoring in Special Education with a minor in English Education and Youth Ministry. She is highly involved with Campus Ministries as a Bible Study Leader, and in Athletic Ministries. She is also on the Cheer team at Hope. Outside of Hope, you will likely find her at the KIN coffee shop in Holland, Engedi Church, or playing pickleball with friends!