Susan May Warren. It Had to Be You. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014.
Please note: This review may contain some borderline spoilers, depending on if you have read any of the books in Susan May Warren’s Christiansen Family series or previews/summaries for the latter books in the series. Thanks!
It’s been a relatively unexciting week spent on the couch with a box of Kleenex and a trash can that seems to self-fill with used tissues. Being sick is awful, but running a temperature when the entire family would prefer that I do something with them feels particularly miserable. After cancelling my plans and feeling relatively dejected, I decided to pick out a book from my current library pile and start reading. Fortunately, I had Susan May Warren’s It Had to Be You sitting there for several weeks, waiting patiently for me to pick it up. I would classify it as an “oldie but goodie,” even though it’s not even a year old yet.
As the second book in the Christiansen Family novel series, It Had to Be You follows Eden, the oldest daughter and second child of John and Ingrid Christiansen. Working in the obits department of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Eden dreams of becoming a serious reporter. However, every spare moment of her life is taken up as chief cheerleader, family representative, nurse, and surrogate mother for her little brother, Owen, who makes it onto the NHL’s newest team, the St. Paul Blue Ox. When the spotlight and unexpected injuries damage Owen’s chances to succeed in the NHL, Eden comes face-to-face with Blue Ox captain, Jace Jacobsen. Together, they come to realize that God’s plan is not limited by their respective job titles.
Like so many of Ms. Warren’s other books, It Had to Be You is challenging to summarize without giving away significant plot points. The novel offers a fascinating examination of how people come to define one’s purpose in life. While Eden aspires to be more than what other people define her, she comes to discover how God has put her in exactly the right place all along. Meanwhile, Jace realizes that he can be more than the hockey persona that his fans have come to expect. Throughout the book, other characters encounter situations that cause them to question God’s reasoning for tragedy, with some situations resulting in greater faith and relative resolution, while others surpass the timeline of the book itself. As a person who has faced similar questions in their life, I felt that these situations were very accurately portrayed and greatly enhanced the believability of the characters.
The book’s greatest weakness is also one of its greatest strengths. Some of the depictions are so realistic as to be heartbreaking and I find myself brushing away tears (even after reading this book multiple times) reading through certain sections. I realize that some readers (typically, me included) may want to avoid “sad” books, especially if they are struggling with similar situations in real life. However, the Christian perspective of the novel offers tremendous hope and resolve for both the characters and the reader.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading It Had to Be You and look forward to Ms. Warren’s forthcoming novels. When I Fall in Love (2014) is also excellent (I’ll include a review at a later date), focusing on Grace Christiansen and Blue Ox teammate, Max Sharpe’s culinary adventures in Hawaii and Minneapolis. Within the next couple months, Always on My Mind will also be released, continuing a storyline from When I Fall in Love about Casper Christiansen and Raina Beumont. I would definitely recommend the Christiansen Family novel series, which has been getting even better with each new book, to anyone who enjoys contemporary Christian romance with a moderate pace and well-developed characters.