A review by S. Leigh Hall
Stay with Me by Carolyn Astfalk is a romance with substance. It begins with an encounter in a grocery store between two young adults, a good place for single people to meet from what I’ve heard. Much better than bars or parties especially if you are a recent Catholic convert, Chris, and a religiously stifled young woman, Rebecca.
Stay with Me is about finding that right person at the right time. The beauty of the romance is about its slow, steady progress, but the book is over 300 pages long meaning issues abound. For instance, Chris comes from a strong family with both parents and a brother named Alan. Although his parents are not Catholic, they support the decision Chris made to join the church. Rebecca comes from a broken family with a religious background that opposes Catholicism and finds evil in diversions such as dancing and drinking. Consequently, the young couple must learn through each other how to navigate the conflicting philosophies. Rebecca knows little about the Chris’ church, but is open to reading some of the material he shares with her.
The narrative bounces between Rebecca and Chris, so the reader learns about the two through the thoughts they reveal of themselves and each other, but the dialogue, both internal and external, is believable and allows the reader to visualize scenes as they occur. The author leads the reader into relatable experiences. Who hasn’t seen a member of the opposite sex and talked to himself or herself about finding that person attractive? Who hasn’t experienced the awkwardness of making that first date? Well, maybe Rebecca who has lived a sheltered life under the heavy hand of her father.
The external conflict comes from Rebecca’s father, an angry man whose wife died some years ago but not before she left him alone with two children. The reader learns throughout the story what control this man has over Rebecca, so much so that she moved 40 minutes away to another town. Chris tries to win the man’s favor but realizes it’s not possible at a Friday evening dinner when the main dish is sirloin steak. Rebecca explains that Chris is Catholic. If that isn’t bad enough, Chris has just taken a new job working in a brewery. Dad can’t handle anymore and excuses himself from the table saying, “Sometimes I wonder what it is I’ve done that the women in my life are hellbent on making me suffer.”
Besides his wife the other woman to whom he’s referring is Rebecca’s sister Abby who is definitely a scene stealer whenever she appears. Obviously, her quick wit and inability to filter her responses, though revealing truth most every time, have been honed by the necessity to mother her younger sister and provide protection from their shared father. She brings her little sister into the modern world giving advice and updating her wardrobe. Chris learns from Abby about two childhood situations affecting Rebecca’s self esteem. One episode is the reason Rebecca refuses to sing though she has a beautiful voice. Their father ridiculed his daughter during a church performance when she was thirteen. Chris also discovers that Rebecca was attacked at church camp by a male bully, and though she was rescued by another camper named John, she shies away from physical contact at least until she becomes more comfortable with Chris and recognizes his love for her.
The characters are well developed and believable. What we learn about Rebecca right away: she is worried about being a good wife and mother as she struggles to contain the temper tantrum of her niece, her self-esteem is not exactly positive, her clothing is modest to the point of out-of-date with society, she is naïve of the ways of the world including never having heard most contemporary music other than Christian. Music is a thread throughout the book as Chris introduces Rebecca to new voices especially his brother’s favorite group the Dave Mathews Band.
What we learn about Chris right away: he is good looking, he is attracted to Rebecca, he likes children as evidenced by his volunteering to help Rebecca find a yogurt for her cranky niece, he drives a motorcycle prompting Rebecca to tease him about being a “bad boy”, he is open to recognizing God’s will in his life and feels called to pursue Rebecca.
Chris and Rebecca resolve from the beginning of their relationship to remain chaste until they are married, something that becomes difficult as their love strengthens. The author makes no excuses for her protagonists who wrestle honestly and authentically with sexual emotions and the outcome of some not so good choices. I was disappointed that they fail in their resolution, but gratified that they turn for advice to Father John, spiritual director for Chris, who also knows Rebecca from a long ago time in their childhood. (Possible spoiler alert!) Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they experience mercy and grace learning to depend on the Holy Spirit to strengthen them in making better decisions.
Be aware of some sexual innuendoes and moments of too much information though nothing is graphically portrayed. I recommend this book to young adults who like a romance but be prepared for turns and twists. Father John has some of his own inner struggles, and Dad has to try one more time to spoil his daughter’s happiness. A final note…I never realized how many different meanings there are to the way two people kiss. Interesting!
Catholic Themes: Theology of the Body, Chastity, Grace, Conversion, Sexuality, Relationships
Year Published: 2015
Audience: New Adult
Author’s Worldview: Catholic
Author’s Website: www.carolynastfalk.com