The story begins with a focus on the two main characters and a promise made between best friends fourteen years earlier. They swear to save each other from growing old alone (with old being defined as thirty) by getting married. Trouble is that fourteen years is a long time for teenage insecurity to build into walls, especially with a deep friendship at risk.
James doesn’t want to pressure Lauren, or stand in her way if she loves another. He set his mind so firmly on the deadline, he’s done little to clue Lauren in on the love he already had when he’d offered the promise. Even worse, Lauren’s tentative attempts to make him aware of her feelings are too subtle to break through his belief that she isn’t ready, almost costing him both best friend and love. She is reluctant to risk their friendship over feelings she’s sure are one sided.
All of which leads them to within spitting distance of their shared thirtieth birthday still ignorant of how their feelings are returned. Yes, it falls in the “if they would only talk to each other” category. But, the barriers develop throughout the story and are plausible enough to stand when considered through the lens of someone afraid of throwing away what they have by asking for more only to be rejected. It helps that while James and Lauren are blind, the other characters are quick to point out their mistakes, giving each something to actively reject rather than recognize their own cowardice.
The only jarring element for me was a firm separation of the sexes in traits and perceptions that comes up several times. However, James’ father does suggest that just because many women or men hold a certain opinion doesn’t mean they all do. The same could be said for James blaming his reticence on his gender when Lauren is just as bad. So what the characters say and what they demonstrate doesn’t match…not in a contradictory way, but in the way people believe things to be true so never look to see they aren’t.
The book starts out as inspirational romance light, with the focus on an earthly relationship, or rather non-relationship. A mention of God here or there makes His presence known, but they face no real questions of faith. That doesn’t mean the story is without conflict by any measure though, and internal struggles soon turn to faith ones because they’re blind to God’s will.
This story begins with questions of risk: when to take the chance and when to hold tight. James even looks at God’s call for perseverance and ties it with his patient waiting, a false connection to my mind. Both characters are inspired by their pastor’s sermon on God’s will to recognize how they’ve been ignoring their faith and failing to trust in God to know what’s best. These are solid themes, and while the risk is only gnawed upon by the main characters, their group of friends and family all take on the challenge of understanding how to hear God’s will in their lives, leading to some good discussions.
They both have much to learn about taking chances on love and not standing in their own…and God’s …way.
The strong characters I love from Valerie Comer are here in full force between over-involved sisters, meddling friends, and those on the sidelines who make themselves known. Once the story turns to a stronger inspy focus, it’s in the form of discussions that explore the meaning behind scripture, something only possible because the cast is much broader than just the leading pair. There are even fun metatextual discussions about writing and fiction versus reality…by fictional characters. This is thanks to one friend being a freelance fiction editor.
I enjoyed the story and the characters’ struggles, which–though self-inflicted–carried elements that rang true especially with the ongoing self-revision to make their poor decisions appear logical. The rich community filled with people who care about each other and look out for their friends’ emotional and spiritual wellbeing even when it’s not appreciated forms a solid part of my enjoyment. I look forward to hearing the stories to come, and even those that have already happened in this crowd, a sign of a robust fictional world.