It Had to be You (Tyndale House Publishers), the second in her “Christiansen Family” series, is a contemporary drama and romance centered on another sibling in the Christiansen family, Eden Christiansen.
Eden is struggling to find her place in life while stuck at an entry-level job in a field she loves and holding on to her role as big sister too tightly. She would love to advance and become a star reporter, but she cannot seem to achieve a promotion out of the obituary department at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She spends her free time as loyal fan, family cheerleader, and protective sister of her brother Owen, the new star forward for the St. Paul Blue Ox NHL team. She cannot see that she lacks self confidence in her own writing or that her overprotectiveness is causing her brother to shirk responsibility.
Through events resulting from Owen’s immaturity and recklessness, Eden meets Jace “The Hammer” Jacobsen, team captain and veteran enforcer for the Blue Ox team. His bad-boy reputation precedes him, intimidating Eden from the beginning, though she believes he could become the mentor her brother Owen desperately needs. Jace knows he is near the end of his career, but his emotional scars and secret guilt over past decisions weigh him down and keep him from facing the possibility of a career outside of pro hockey. As Jace and Eden combine forces to help a stranger, Eden gets to know the real Jace – not the famous celebrity – but the kind, protective, and sometimes intimidating person. Jace is afraid to let Eden in, thinking that she is just using him for a story. As their worlds collide and personal feelings come to the surface, they both must learn lessons in forgiveness, trust, and grace.
A secondary storyline gives depth to the characters and reinforces the theme of trust. It involves Jace’s best friend, single dad Sam, and his daughter, Maddy. She is in need of an organ transplant to save her life. Sam and Maddy’s story intertwines with Eden and Jace’s in unexpected ways, emphasizing the meanings of sacrifice and love, complete with moments of heart-wrenching emotion.
Jace and Eden are an unlikely pair: a famous hockey star and a down-to-earth would-be reporter. Jace has no clue how to approach her with her honesty one minute and withdrawn demeanor the next. They each avoid admitting their growing attraction, both convincing themselves that they are not good enough and that neither would be interested in a romantic relationship “with someone like me”. As their relationship slowly grows past friendship, Jace opens up to Eden about his fears and struggles with accepting forgiveness. Jace sees that Eden’s gift is recognizing others’ potential and encouraging them. With his support, she starts to find the encouragement she needs to move past insecurities and become confidant in her role in life.
The closeness of the Christiansen family is essential to the characters of It Had to be You, much like the first book in Susan’s series. Jace’s character has never before experienced this closeness. This poignant picture of a family grounded by faith and united through struggles serves to draw the characters closer to each other and closer to Christ.
Fans of pro hockey will be delighted with its inclusion in this novel, while those not remotely familiar with the game will not be lost. It provides an element of adventure and danger to the story. I personally don’t know much about hockey, but I really liked the glimpse Susan gives into the game through the characters’ experience.
Susan skillfully communicates the idea that God’s grace and forgiveness is available for anyone to freely accept. Each person has the potential to impact the world around them every day, with every decision he or she makes, by offering grace and love even to those who may not deserve it. That is the message at the heart of It Had to be You.
“You are God’s child, and that means He’s crazy about you. And that doesn’t change because you do something stupid…or terrible. God’s love simply is.” – It Had to be You, Susan May Warren
Note: Thank you to Tyndale House for the complimentary ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Do you have a big, supportive family like the Christiansens? How has that blessed you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!