Stay With Me by Carolyn Astfalk
The words, “Catholic romance novel” do not spring to mind easily. Perhaps it’s best that this review comes from someone who has read few, very few romance novels of any type. I could probably count them on one hand. However, Stay With Me is a hard book to put down, made all the more perfect by the union of Catholic and romance and everything beautiful and difficult happening when those words unite in a coherent vision of love.
Chris and Rebecca are an unlikely couple. He’s a Catholic convert, reads Theology of the Body books on sex and faith, and works in a brewery. She’s been raised in a fundamentalist church with a view on life that has been badly skewed by an abusive father. Rebecca is naïve, lonely, and sees Chris as more than just a handsome face. He becomes a man she can trust, someone who buoys her fragile sense of self and helps her have fun without going overboard. They both have limits, willpower, and a fascinating inner dialogue, which makes the outer dialogue a real page-turner. Almost from the start, I found myself rooting for this couple and laughing alongside their siblings who are the comic relief.
These two lovebirds have several uphill battles to wage, as they find themselves falling more and more in love, and discussing what that love should look like. Does Chris really respect Rebecca, as she barely respects herself? Does she have any idea what her dad will do when he finds out that Rebecca is dating Chris? Carolyn Astfalk does a masterful job of creating believable situations that challenge Chris and Rebecca to the core. Having grown up around Protestants, evangelicals, and fundamentalists, and then converting to Catholicism, I can tell you that every conversation in this book about faith, love, and sex sounds just like real life people I know.
Rebecca’s sister Abby is blunt, coarse, and caring about her little sister but has opposite values when it comes to waiting on intimacy. Same for Alan, Chris’s older brother who lives with his girlfriend before they are married. What I love about Stay With Me, though, is that the story never devolves into preachiness or prudishness. There are elements of struggle with every aspect of staying chaste, waiting until marriage for full intimacy, and planning a future together when life seems so uncertain. Throw in a young, honest Catholic priest named Father John who is friends with both Chris and Rebecca, and you have a really entertaining and thought-provoking romantic story. Highly recommended for ages 16 and up, especially as a good read before marriage. Teaching Catholic values through fiction is becoming a passion of mine, and Carolyn Astfalk lays out the ultimate temptation of sex before marriage in a way that everyone can relate to as Chris and Rebecca make decisions that will ultimately affect their love for better or worse.