Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck
Thomas Nelson, 320 pages
Elle’s living the dream-but is it her dream or his?
Elle loves life in Beaufort, South Carolina-lazy summer days on the sand bar, coastal bonfires, and dinners with friends sharing a lifetime of memories. And she’s found her niche as the owner of a successful art gallery too. Life is good.
Then the dynamic pastor of her small town church sweeps her off her feet. She’s never known a man like Jeremiah-one who breathes in confidence and exhales all doubt. When he proposes in the setting sunlight, Elle hands him her heart on a silver platter.
But Jeremiah’s just accepted a large pastorate in a different state. If she’s serious about their relationship, Elle will take “the call,” too, leaving behind the people and place she loves so dearly. Elle’s friendship with her new tenant, widower Heath McCord, and his young daughter make things even more complicated.
Is love transferable across the miles? And can you take it with you when you go?
A week ago, some colleagues and I were discussing relationships and romance, and how one must go in choosing a mate. Perhaps “choosing a mate” is not the proper phrase to use (frankly it sounds a bit too bestial for me), but the discussion was about how the other person can be qualified as a potential guy or girl or will they be cast off into the friend zone. It was quite an interesting discussion, and I was surprised at how some of the guys told me that I needed to find someone who I don’t share too many common interests with but someone who is my opposite — someone who complements me, to use their term. That kind of got me confused. I mean, I know people say “Opposites attract” but if you have no common ground, how will you even start talking? Isn’t having something in common — even a little — a prerequisite in building good relationships?
It’s timely that I started reading Love Starts With Elle by Rachel Hauck as I semi-wrestled with these questions. We first meet Elle Garvey in Sweet Caroline, as one of Caroline’s best friends and someone who could not wait to get married. She was so set to find a man in Beaufort that she started Operation Wedding Day in Caroline’s book, where she made a list of men that are qualified for her husband standards and set off to date them, only to find herself disappointed after kissing and dating many frogs that she hoped would be her prince. We see her at the end of Sweet Caroline done with her Operation Wedding Day and still no groom in sight, and yet she was still somewhat happy at the state of her heart.
We meet Elle again, this time a year after the events of Sweet Caroline, happily managing her own gallery and in love with assistant pastor Jeremiah Franklin for the past two months. Elle is at the peak of her career and life, and there was only one thing that would make her happier — a ring. Jeremiah provided that for her immediately at the start of the story, but not without revealing a catch soon after she gives her yes: they would have to move to Dallas because Jeremiah accepted a pastor job at a big church there. Elle felt torn, and even if there was probably more flowers in Houston TX, she said yes to Jeremiah, all in the name of love (cheesy, but it’s the only way I can describe it).
It’s here we see trouble brewing. Elle tries her best to submit to her husband-to-be’s whims and wishes, but she can’t help but feel stifled with Jeremiah’s passion for ministry and lack of concern for her. Elle loves Jeremiah, but she also loves her life and her dream and her art — one of them will have to give, but which? To make matters even more confusing, Elle becomes friends with her tenant, handsome and gentleman Heath McCord and his daughter, who both just happen to be there when she needed company the most.
Now, there is really nothing new or surprising in this novel, and I think everyone who’s read the blurb will know what will happen in the end. And it is true: there’s really nothing so surprising in how the story unfolded — the storyline is pretty typical. In a way, it reminded me of the local movie Miss You Like Crazy (John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo), with less angst and more chaste.
So why give it a pretty high rating, if the story’s so typical?
First reason: Love Starts With Elle is a breath of fresh air. I am really not a romance reader, but I like my share of chick lit. I love how everything in this book is still chick lit, yet it’s also not your typical chick lit. Of course, it’s Christian, so you won’t expect to read any sex scenes in the book, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the consequences of the actions of the characters. Case in point: Elle’s younger sister, Julianne, had a child out of wedlock, and she had to deal with knowing who the dad was in the novel. Another example: Elle wasn’t immune to the charms of Jeremiah, and she had to struggle with physical intimacy with him, and she knows that if she wasn’t careful, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself. I liked how the author wrote a very realistic setting and cast, which is kind of hard to do when writing Christian fiction. I think it’s a common misconception that Christians/Catholics/religious people are if not too religious and always in church, are happy all the time. That is far from the truth, because we also get hurt, angry, sad and all that. The only difference is we believe that there’s Someone who’s willing to share (if not take) the burden from us, and that there is a bigger purpose for all the trials, one that we may not see or understand now, but will in the future. I think Hauck was able to convey that effectively in her novel, especially when Elle and Heath were both struggling with their own brokenness in the story. Elle’s divine affirmations in the story felt a bit over the top for me at first, but I have to remind myself that God communicates to us differently, and who am I to say that He won’t communicate in the way He did with Elle, even if she was fictional?
Second reason: the characters. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am very particular to characters in a book. The Beaufort people shone so much in this novel that I really believed they existed. I loved their little quirks, the Southern charm and the townspeople who were far from perfect, yet still lovable. Furthermore, Elle Garvey is a well-written protagonist, and she was very human. Human in the sense that she wasn’t perfect — she got angry, was lazy, she felt far away from God, she was tempted. I could relate very much to her because like Elle, I grew up in a Catholic family and I grew up knowing God. People expect me to be always connected to Him, to always do good and all that stuff, but I’m not. Heath, on the other hand, is a pretty good male lead. His brokenness and grief were beautifully written, and while I can’t empathize, I felt his pain in losing his wife and his confusion in raising a girl on his own. Heath is the awkward father and the handsome protector rolled into one, and even if he seemed a tad too perfect for me, I liked his character.
Compared to Sweet Caroline, this book actually has a semblance of villains! Spoiler warning starts here. Jeremiah Franklin is probably the most stuck-up guy I have ever read in Christian fiction, ever. I knew he wasn’t good for Elle, and I remember mentally chiding Elle for sticking with him. I swear, I couldn’t stand him. He reminded me of my friend’s ex who we all disliked too, after he broke up with her. He was ambitious, self-centered, and unreasonable — and he was supposed to be a pastor! For a character in Christian fiction to elicit this much dislike from me is something new, and I have to commend Rachel Hauck for that! His ending with Elle was kind of too clean, and I felt that he should have gotten more spite than he did…but then again, we must forgive. :P Spoiler warning ends here. Julianne, Elle’s sister, is also a tough nut to crack, and I found myself getting annoyed at her a lot, too, but she managed to have her own redemption in the end.
So did I get my answer to my questions about complements and similarities and potential partners? In a way…yes. I learned, from Elle’s story, that having something in common isn’t really a prerequisite and neither is being opposites. Sure, it’s nice to have something to talk about, and it’s also nice to find someone who complements your personality. But if we’re talking about forever and with bigger issues in life (ex. faith, family matters, direction in life), there has to be balance: you can’t be too similar to the other because there would be no growth, and you can’t be too different, too, because you won’t go anywhere. Each person must be willing to meet each other halfway (and sometimes, even more) to make the relationship work.
Of course, that is coming from someone who has never been in a relationship before — so feel free to correct me. ;)
Overall, Love Starts With Elle is a pretty good book. Despite the typical storyline, strong characters and a pretty vivid setting is worth it enough for me to give this book a high rating. It definitely satiated my need for tingles and good, clean, fictional romance. ;) I am inviting males who are willing to read romance/chick lit to read this book — I am very curious to know what you think about Elle and Jeremiah’s relationship drama. :)
2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 70 out of 100 for 2010
My copy: paperback, $5.00 from Amazon
Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads