Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Matters Most: A Novel

I have been reading a lot of books lately that I have gotten free on my Kindle. I can say that very few are worth the read but I have read at least two recently that are worth reviewing. I am reading much more than that each week but have decided only to review those books that are worth the time.

Although What Matters Most: A Novel (Star of the Sea Academy) is not a book I enjoyed, it really resonated with me personally in matters of both faith and my own story. The premise of the book is a love story between a nun and her gardener and their search for the son they were forced to give up for adoption. The setting is this school called Star of the Sea Academy which is governed by a rule of nuns, the main character being the Mother Superior and Principal. There are various other stories intertwined in the plot – the Star of the Sea Academy is apparently an ongoing series – but the most important is the additional love story between the boy, Seamus, and a young woman named Kathleen.

Now before you get excited about another love story, I have to tell you that this is not a happy ending kind of novel. Even with a sort of “alls well that ends well” kind of epilogue, I just remained disturbed by the whole thing. I wish I could say more but I will give away all kinds of spoilers if I did.

There are two issues that I can talk about without spoiling the whole thing. The first issue has to do with the adoption. The first couple, Tom and Bernie, got pregnant outside of marriage. In fact, they got pregnant after Bernie had a vision from the Virgin Mary and was in the process of becoming a nun. When their son is born, Tom thinks she will give up her path to her vows and marry him. In fact, when she sees her son, she decides to do just that. However, due to the machinations of an evil nun, her baby is taken away to live in an orphanage where the same nun makes sure the boy, James or Seamus, never is adopted. Bernie goes ahead and follows her calling. Tom is not only broken hearted over her decision but is also devastated that his son has been taken away. He was never really consulted about this. Years later, after a family tragedy, the two decide to make a serious search for their son.

The whole adoption process was just awful, in my opinion. Yes, they were in Ireland but they were also both American. Why wasn't his name on the birth certificate? Why was the baby taken away from her if she really had changed her mind? What prevented him from protesting the whole thing? And why did they wait so long before searching for the child? I just wanted to groan and at the same time cry. As someone who was put up for adoption, I found the whole dilemma of the parents to be upsetting. I also could get a glimpse into how my own blood mother may have been “persuaded” by her own mother to give me up. I know it was all good in the end, but reading this was not a happy place for me.

The second issue that disturbs me is around Bernie's calling and her love for Tom (and his love for her). If she wasn't Roman Catholic, she would have been in the ministry and could still have married Tom. She did have a vision. Why would God want her to be a nun and still have a baby? This question was one that she and Tom constantly asked. I also have a problem with this. I suppose it has less to do with God's calling than it has to do with the system of the church. We have become so ingrained in whatever type of Christianity that we are a part of that we cannot see beyond what human beings have created. I am glad she followed her call but at the same time I am so disappointed that she never seemed to even acknowledge Tom and his love for her. It was almost as if they were married but without the benefits. Why did he continue to hang around her as much as possible after her vows? Could she not see how broken hearted Tom was when she did take her vows? Bernie seemed incredibly selfish even while seeming to be selfless.

The big faith question is this: can a person follow their calling and still have a life? I would say yes. Certainly, my own calling is not easy as my husband is also called to be a pastor. Bishops have a hard time sending us to churches. We are often overlooked for “good” assignments because of our clergy couple status. Yet, I would not have refused to marry my husband in order to follow God's call. For one thing, my call and our relationship are very much intertwined. I think the same was for Bernie and Tom. I guess it makes a good novel with all this angst, but from a faith perspective it is simply upsetting. Certainly, this book doesn't make following a call from God very attractive!

I do not recommend this book.

Happier reading!


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