This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Iola. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Inspirational Romance category.
Kate Donovan is burned out on work, worn down by her dating relationships, and in need of an adventure. When her grandmother asks Kate to accompany her to Redbud, Pennsylvania, to restore the grand old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the chance, takes a leave of absence from her job as a social worker, and the two of them set off.
Upon her arrival in Redbud, Kate meets Matt Jarreau, the man her grandmother has hired to renovate the house. From the first moment she meets Matt, Kate can't help but be attracted to him–he's got a combination of good looks and charisma that draw and tug at her. But she knows there's zero chance of a romance between them. Matt's in love with his dead wife, and even if he weren't, Kate realizes that she's way too ordinary for him.
For Matt Jarreau is no ordinary guy. Kate discovers that he was once a great NHL hockey player who left the sport when his wife–an honest-to-goodness former Miss America–was diagnosed with brain cancer. Matt's been hiding from people, from God, and from his past ever since. Yet Kate is absolutely determined to befriend him, to try to reach him, to help him in some small way.
No, Kate's not looking for love. She knows better than that by now. But when the stilted, uncomfortable interactions between Kate and Matt slowly shift into something more, is God finally answering the longing of her heart? Or will Kate be required to give up more than she ever dreamed?
And here is Iola's review:
No, don’t worry. That’s not an opinion on the book. It’s what got the Christian publishing world talking last year when Bethany House published Becky Wade’s debut novel, My Stubborn Heart. Christian fiction is notoriously conservative: Harlequin’s Love Inspired novels contain no sex, no swearing, no alcohol, no gambling, no dancing, and no mention of Halloween, and other publishers follow similar standards, even if they aren’t so up-front about it. The fact that a mainstream Christian publisher released a book featuring the word “crap” not once but three times garnered My Stubborn Heart a lot of attention.
Is this a tempest in teacup? In the scale of things, “crap” isn’t exactly major-league swearing (and I’m reviewing this on a site called Smart Bitches Trashy Books, so I’m going to hazard a guess that it doesn’t even register as swearing for many readers). Yet “crap” is offensive enough that it is likely to get a review or comment deleted off Amazon (which is why posters in the romance discussions a lot of time talking about carp books. It seems the Ammy algorithms aren’t good with anagrams).
For Christian fiction, it’s a big deal. Some people think it’s the beginning of a slippery slope, and next thing is we’ll be reading a version of Fifty Shades in which Christian is a Christian (no, I don’t really see that happening).
The novel also attracted criticism for having characters continually describing the hero as hot (even though said characters were women in their 70’s), and for having Friday night poker games. For money (each player puts in a $5 stake). Yes, some conservative evangelicals get uptight about these things.
I guess the other question is this: did the book need to use the word “crap,” or would another word have done the job? In my view, another word such as junk or rubbish would have been better in each example. Better, because it would have made more sense in the context in which the word was used. They were talking about goods at a yard sale, not excrement (if the context had been excrement, crap might have been the most appropriate word choice).
However, this is a book review, not a philosophical discussion on the morality of swearing in Christian fiction. Except that I suspect the publicity around swearing in My Stubborn Heart garnered the book a lot of media attention when it was released, and this attention may be part of the reason it was nominated for a RITA.
So was the book good? Yes.
It opens with short vignettes from the viewpoints of Kate and Matt’s mother, which almost gives it a fairy-tale quality. Kate is a strong Christian doing her best to obey God, even when her heart would rather she pursued Matt. Matt has rejected God, who he holds responsible for the death of his wife when she was just twenty-seven. As is normal in evangelical Christian fiction, part of the plot deals with Matt regaining his faith. Combined with Kate’s strong faith (she even hears directly from God), this isn’t a book non-Christians or even non-evangelical Christians are likely to enjoy.
I thought the writing was excellent and the story was solid and well-plotted, but what makes a book sing for me is the characters and the realism. I need to like the characters, and I need to believe that this could happen, that these characters are living in this real, fallen world, not some romantic fantasy equivalent where everything is perfect.
My Stubborn Heart scored well on both factors. Kate and Matt were characters I could believe in and like: I wanted them to get their Happy Ever After. And while there were elements of fairy tale in Matt’s background (star NHL player marries Miss America, then falls apart when she dies), it was a fiction I was able to buy in to. It felt real, believable. It got me rooting for Kate and Matt as a couple, even when it looked as though it was never going to happen. And that’s why I liked it.