Can a relationship based on abuse ever become one based on love?

That’s the question debut novelist Joanne Bischof asks in her soon-to-be released historic romance, “Be Still My Soul” (Multnomah Books, Oct. 2, 2012). Caught offering a kiss to the wrong boy, shy and innocent Lonnie Sawyer is forced to marry banjo-playing, heart-stealing Gideon O’Riley.

Angry at having to settle for just one woman, Gideon forces his new wife to accompany him on an ill-fated journey. The weaker Lonnie grows, the meaner Gideon becomes. Enter Jesus in the form of a retired farmer wielding a shotgun, who teaches Gideon what it takes to be a man.

As Gideon struggles and fails to make right choices, he falls in love with Lonnie. At one point, Lonnie tells Gideon to leave, which he does. But he is drawn back by his wife’s quiet, sincere faith and his growing love for his family.

After one apology from Gideon, Lonnie says, “When you say you’re sorry for all that you’ve done, that’s nice and all, but it will mean more to me when the change runs deeper than that.”

“Deeper?” Gideon asks.

“Bein’ sorry is just not enough,” Lonnie replies.

Nowhere does the author imply that women should tolerate abuse, and yet Bischof’s writing suggests that men who are mean to their wives should be given a chance to change—at least with Christian guidance. It’s a thought provoking theme, which leaves me wondering, is the church doing enough to help husbands and wives who are struggling?

In the early 19th century Appalachian Mountains where Bischof’s book takes place, women like Lonnie didn’t have many choices. Most did what they men in their lives told them. Food and a roof were their reward. And the Bible was often misused to make them obey.

Jebediah, the farmer who intervenes in Gideon and Lonnie’s life is almost too good to believe. Yet, his actions make me question why there aren’t more men like him—older men in the church willing to come alongside hurting couples and help them find their way.

I found Bischof’s writing enjoyable and clean—although Lonnie came off as a bit passive. This reads more like Gideon’s story than hers. Still, the author tackles a difficult theme with gentleness while still affirming women’s rights. However, I wanted to see Lonnie become more confident. Most the action happens to Lonnie, leaving her relatively unchanged.

Were it not for the “ma’s” and “pa’s,” and the kerosene lanterns, Lonnie’s story could easily take place today—a young girl in trouble who marries a troubled boy and the troubles that follow. Maybe a century later, we can follow Jebediah’s example and get involved.

For this review, I was provided with a free copy of “Be Still My Soul” by the publisher. For a chance to win an advanced reading copy, post a comment on my blog before Friday, Aug. 31st. Everyone who has posted this month or let me know they’ve subscribed to my blog will be entered in this month’s drawing. For more info. on how to buy this book, go here.

So, what do you think, can a marriage like  Lonnie’s be saved?