by Deb Elkink
Greenbrier Book Company, 2011
The daughter of hard-working Mennonite farmers, Mary Grace's life takes a dramatic turn at the age of 17 when a French exchange student visits her family's Nebraska farm and skillfully weaves his way into her heart. Using Greek mythology to woo her, Francois upsets Mary Grace's childlike faith with his fanciful pagan tales. When he is unceremoniously sent packing, Mary Grace's heart goes with him, and she turns away from God and her family.
Now fifteen years later, Mary Grace, who has legally changed her name to Aglaia and moved to Denver to pursue a new life and career, has the opportunity to visit France through her employer. She is determined to find Francois and reconnect with him, or at least bring closure to the story of their youthful love, since her remembrance of him and obsession with him, has stopped her from opening up to any other man or developing transparent relationships. Aglaia's mother, Tina, wants her to find Francois for another reason - to return to him the Bible he left at the farm, in the margins of which he had made notations whose meanings she does not understand.
As Aglaia reads through the notations she remembers that summer of love, all that happened in it, and how it changed her forever.
At a recent meeting of one of my writers' critique groups, I was admonished for the level of vocabulary apparent in my work, and told that the "rule" is to write at a fifth grade level. Deb Elkink breaks that rule entirely - no fifth grade level readers here, please. The language is elevated, and I think you have to have an intense interest in Greek mythology as well. (I took a Greek and Roman mythology course in university, and still the content in this book is a bit too much for me. I admit that further along in the book, I skimmed a few, but not all, of these parts).
Aglaia is a three-dimensional character the reader invests in and cares about. The other characters are in a way types, but that does not make them less interesting or provocative. The story's plot is complex, but extremely well developed, with a satisfying resolution. Although this is Christian fiction, it is not at all preachy and I'm sure there will be some readers who wish the book was more 'Christian'. I am pleased to recommend this book to the more erudite and open-minded reader.