Melissa Jagears. A Heart Most Certain. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016. See here to buy the book.
A Heart Most Certain is the first book of The Teaville Moral Society series, but there is also a novella to that series entitled Engaging the Competition.
The setting for A Heart Most Certain is 1905 Kansas, but the action takes place in an urban area in Kansas rather than the prairie. Lydia King’s mother is sick and dying, and her father is a gambler. Lydia figures that her best bet is to marry Sebastian Little, a lawyer and rising politician. Sebastian’s father is the mayor, and his mother heads the Teaville Moral Society, which loudly protests against saloons and prostitution. Lydia hopes that Sebastian will take care of her family.
In an attempt to fit in at the Teaville Moral Society and bolster her credentials to be a politician’s wife, Lydia tries to get a donation from Nicholas Lowe. Nicholas is a wealthy man, and he has a reputation for being stingy and exploitative. But things are not as they appear! Nicholas is actually a devout Christian, and he is privately generous with his money, even if he does not publicly contribute to charities. His cause is to help prostitutes escape their lives of prostitution. Nicholas is doing what nobody else in society will do. Because prostitution carries a stigma, no one else is willing to help prostitutes escape their lives of prostitution by hiring them for other work.
There were times when following the plot was rather difficult. The prose was sophisticated, and that did not always make the plot easy to understand. At the same time, it did add depth to the book, especially when it discussed motivations. The book also did well to interact thoughtfully with such issues as authentic Christian living, hypocrisy, and church discipline. And, while Nicholas is noble, he, too, is subject to critique, for Lydia accuses him of being heavy-handed and controlling in his approach to charity, and readers learn about how Nicholas’ experiences and feet of clay led him to do the charity that he did. Although Nicholas’ hostile attitude towards the church is understandable, he becomes more open-minded toward the end of the book.
Bernadette also deserves discussion. Bernadette is the pastor’s wife, and she takes a break from serving others so that she can become closer to God. The book appears rather sympathetic towards her on this: the idea is that doing a bunch of activities to gain approval from others can drown out God’s voice and is not the proper motivation for service. The book may have a point on that, and yet poor people in need of help do not go away just because someone decides to take a spiritual vacation. The book should have presented that sort of perspective, too, on some level.
Sebastian Little definitely has his flaws, but he is complex.
The Afterword of the book was good because Jagears presented historical information about who actually helped prostitutes in that day and age, and the advantages and disadvantages of that help. Specifically, she discusses a Catholic organization. It did well to help people whom nobody else would help, and yet prostitutes who sought its assistance were required to live apart from society. Jagears refers to a book about this Catholic organization, which is helpful to those who want to learn more.
The discussion questions in the back are also noteworthy. They are thoughtful. They are also heavy on Scripture, more so than most Christian fiction books. There is nothing wrong with Christian books encouraging people to think biblically!
Whatever critiques I may have of this book, it still deserves five stars, particularly on account of the issues with which it thoughtfully interacts.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.