Sarah O. Maddox. A Beautiful Reflection. Winchester, KY: Olivia Kimbrell Press, 2014. ISBN-10: 1939603293. ISBN-13: 978-1939603296. See here to purchase the book.
A Beautiful Reflection is a Christian novella for young women. Its message is about the importance of Christians marrying Christians rather than non-Christians. The two main characters of the book are Susan Strasbourg and Jim Hitchenson. Susan is a devout conservative Christian, who prays to God, attends church, abstains from alcohol and pre-marital sex, displays a genuine interest in people, and volunteers at a mental hospital and a school for the deaf.
Susan manages a local branch of a company, and she attends the company’s convention in Atlanta. A handsome man sitting with his parents and his sister at the convention keeps looking at Susan, and Susan learns that he is Jim Hitchenson, the President of the company. Susan is warned that Jim is quite a ladies’ man, one who loves the ladies and then leaves them! But Jim introduces himself to Susan and comes across as a really nice guy. He takes Susan out, and he respects her desire not to drink alcohol. When Susan is stalked at the convention, Jim is very protective of her and stations security guards at her hotel door.
Jim is serious about Susan because she is beautiful on the inside and the outside, and Jim wants the sort of wholesome family life that his parents have. Susan loves Jim because he is handsome, is concerned about her, has lots of energy, and loves people. But there is a slight barrier between them. Jim has a wild past filled with promiscuity and alcohol, and he is reluctant to share that with Susan out of fear that she will reject him. And Susan wonders if Jim is a born-again believer, for she wants the Lord to build her house, and she does not want to trap Jim in any religiosity that he may later resent.
I am not the book’s target audience, but I was interested in reading this book because I thought that it would be about different beliefs and value systems, from an evangelical Christian perspective. In addition, I have read my share of Christian and non-Christian romance, so I believe that I am qualified to offer an evaluation of the book.
Overall, I wish that the book had more about conflicting values and religious beliefs, and that it fleshed out more why it was so problematic for believers to marry non-believers. In one scene, when Susan was pointing out to herself that she had not yet discussed with Jim his religious beliefs, his stance on social issues, and his political views, I was looking forward to such a discussion, even though I feared that it would amount to Susan suggesting that true Christians are right-wing Republicans! (I was expecting Jim to be a Republican, but an economic conservative and not a social or cultural conservative.) I was hoping for more substantive discussions, beyond the romantic dialogue that was throughout the book. Why did Susan and Jim believe and behave as they did, and how could the disparity between their beliefs pose problems to them if they were to get married, especially when Jim seemed to respect Susan’s convictions? The author, Sarah O. Maddox, asked thoughtful questions in the back of the book, but I was hoping for more in the story itself.
I was also disappointed that certain aspects of the plot were not revisited. For example, in the book’s preface, we are told about Susan’s relationship with a Christian man, Rob, long before she met Jim. Rob proposed to Susan, but Susan prayed about Rob’s proposal and turned Rob down, concluding that she saw Rob as more of a friend than a potential husband. The events of the preface are never mentioned in the remainder of the book. Perhaps readers are supposed to draw their own conclusions, but there were questions in my mind that I was hoping would be addressed. What did Susan learn from this experience? And can this experience shed light on why Susan was responding to Jim as she was?
Something else that perplexed me was the reaction of Jim’s sister Violet to the relationship between Jim and Susan. Violet had been romantically involved with Dan, and Dan broke off the relationship because Dan was a non-Christian and Violet was asking him if he had a born again experience. Yet, Violet was happy that Jim met Susan and never brought up to Susan the topic of whether Jim is a believer and how Jim and Susan would be unequally yoked were they to marry. Maybe Violet was just happy that Jim had met a good Christian woman, who was different from the women Jim had previously dated.
Overall, though, I liked the book. Although I sometimes questioned if Maddox was right to tell us Jim’s feelings for Susan early in the book—-I was wondering if readers would be better off wondering if Jim’s love for Susan was real—-I did appreciate the theme of Jim being a recovering playboy who was looking for a wholesome family life. And I liked his sister, Violet.
The publisher sent me a complimentary review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.