I’m a long-term fan of Valerie Comer’s books because of the way she writes characters who feel like real people and make you care. She also takes on serious problems, whether how we manage our food supply or a variety of interpersonal issues. This is in addition to her chosen genre of Christian (or inspirational) romance.
The Cowboy’s Romantic Dreamer is no different in that it focuses on bringing two dark themes into the light: abusive relationships and the struggle with food disorders. As if those weren’t enough, on Trevor’s side of the equation, there’s social pressure and a misguided shutdown of creativity. The underlying themes focus on self-acceptance and forgiveness, important ones in any context but especially with Danae’s and Trevor’s history. Both are locking themselves away from life because they take blame and the wrong answers from events in their pasts. They are both over-thinkers and used to presenting a facade, traits making their relationship difficult to start and harder to reach stable ground.
The presentation of Danae’s anorexia is compelling, coming into the story after she’s gone through the process of recognizing the root cause if she ever didn’t know and has sought help. I liked how getting help is a beginning rather than an off switch. It’s not easy to recover from what triggered her eating disorder, nor from the disorder itself. Her awareness is in the mind and can’t overcome what’s branded on her soul that easily no matter what she’d prefer. She sees herself as broken despite what she’s made of her life, and fears Trevor doing the same. Nor is an eating disorder purely psychological as she mentions with her shrunken stomach making normal portions sickening.
More than the rest of the series, this one felt stronger on the inspirational front. The characters are not having a crisis of faith, or rather faith in God since their faith in themselves is definitely an issue. What makes this one more inspy is how faith forms an active, positive thread in helping the characters both in spirit and in life through an accessible pastor. This might be because the largest crises in the book are internal, a matter of insecurity and the weight of history more than overcoming bad choices.
One of the fascinating aspects in this story is the look at perception. Danae’s is obvious as she is surrounded by caring friends who are worried about her, something that wouldn’t make sense if she were truly the broken person she believes herself to be. Through Danae’s job as a freelance romance editor, the story challenges perceptions of romance novels as a whole, a bit of meta writing I found amusing.
Those are not the only perceptions though. Trevor’s childhood decision to give up music and his ongoing jealousy of his brother Kade come from his perception of his own value and of Kade’s. These are only some of the situations where perception, and false perceptions, drive attitudes and opinions in directions the people wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. It’s a good reminder to learn more before charging ahead.
I did have a few problems along the way, not surprising with the complexity of topics, but the one tying marriageability and recovering from obesity turned out to be a misinterpretation later corrected. My bigger issue came with being an edge-case where the target audience is concerned. I found some of the Christian morality espoused by the characters to be blind to the complexity of human life, a problem I have with the Church and not with issues of faith. In the story’s context, emphasizing the binary marriage bond makes sense. Still, I can’t hear the man and a woman argument without feeling the doors of the church close against faithful who don’t fall into that pairing, something Jesus did not do.
The above is not enough to disrupt my enjoyment of a story where two complicated people, each struggling with their own demons, accept their love for each other is stronger than anything holding them apart. There’s a lovely, if often self-depreciating, humor in this text, and the book does not shy away from the harder subjects of abuse and its consequences on survivors. The story offers ample evidence for how faith can support recovery and moving forward to a fuller life.