Playing by Heart
About This Book
Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything. With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn’t even consider those real subjects!
Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys’ coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She’s returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet. However, the more time she spends around Jewel’s family, the girls’ basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she’s given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she’d expected.
I was admittedly a little concerned by how many story threads the book’s description hinted at (math, women’s higher education, music, basketball, the war, family tragedies, troubled teens, and more), but was delighted with how well Anne juggled all her story elements and kneaded them together. The writing was very well-balanced between dialogue and descriptions, and the author’s voice was just as lyrical as in her previous books. Combined with the real-life setting of a small town during World War One, and how well the fictional characters were grounded in that real world, overall this book was a very sweet tale that really swept me away to another time and place.
Having read all of Anne Mateer’s previous books, I expected this to be another single-character, first-person-POV story, so I was pleasantly surprised that this book featured both Lula’s and Chet’s points-of-view.
This novel has a wonderful spiritual message about trusting God’s plans and His timing, and even surrendering to Him when we feel we’ve taken our lives into our own hands and done something to ruin what He originally had in store. Chet struggles with his perceived cowardice as he seeks to obey God’s calling on his life, and I’m sure readers will all be able to relate to his rash decision when he finally caves in and enlists—because who among us hasn’t jumped into the deep end when we felt God wasn’t leading us the right way? Lula, too, has to face the possibility that what she’s always wanted may not be what God wants for her, and she struggles to let go and embrace a different future. Readers will find both characters highly likable and relatable.
I didn’t feel Lula’s and Chet’s voices were always distinct, however. Both were written in first person, and even though each chapter identified right at the outset whether it was a “Chet” or “Lula” chapter, I had multiple experiences of getting confused as to which head I was supposed to be inside at the moment, and found myself flipping back to those chapter headings on more than occasion to remind me.
If Playing by Heart had been written in the 1940s, it would’ve been made into an MGM musical starring Judy Garland. Combining tender romance, family responsibilities, and the yearning to do something more with one’s life, this poignant story brilliantly portrays two hardworking people who must learn to let go of their goals and trust that God has bigger and better plans in store for them. Anne’s devoted fans will particularly love seeing the hero’s point-of-view for the first time. It’s the perfect heartfelt, homespun story to warm your heart on a chilly autumn night.
Available September 16, 2014 from Bethany House Publishers