From the very start, Picoult (Keeping Faith) draws readers into her suspenseful, richly layered drama. J Katie Fisher, a Pennsylvania Amish teenager, hides an unintended pregnancy beneath her garments, gives birth to the baby alone in a barn, then denies knowledge of the child after it is discovered—dead—hours later. When high-profile Philadelphia attorney Ellie Hathaway is tapped to defend the unworldly girl against a murder charge, the urbane lawyer must navigate clannish conformity and her own preconceptions about the Amish to determine if and why the obedient Katie killed her newborn boy.
Despite the occasional cliché and a coda that feels artificially tacked on, Picoult's seventh novel never loses its grip. The research is convincing, the plotting taut, the scenes wonderfully vivid. Most impressive, the author gets beneath the uniformities of dress, custom and conduct to paint a unique community—closed to most Americans—in all its social and psychological complexity. As Katie's mother observes, and Picoult proves, "We look alike. We pray alike. We live alike. But none of these things mean we all think alike." (Pocket, $24.95)
Bottom Line: Absorbing, multidimensional portrait of an Amish clan