is a romance community member review
for You Belong to My Heart
Date of Review: 03/02/07
YOU BELONG TO MY HEART is set during the War Between the States, specifically 1862. I'm not generally a fan of the Civil War romance novel --somehow, the blue vs. gray when portrayed in a romance novel never holds my interest. But YOU BELONG TO MY HEART got in under my radar, and I have to eat some humble pie. This is one Civil War-era romance that I really liked.
Still, it must be said that a major part of my liking this book probably has to be the fact that a major part doesn't even take place during the war. There's a juicy, prolonged flashback to the early childhood and teenage romance of the heroine and hero, Mary Ellen Preble and Clayton Knight. I love it when an early romance between protagonists is given equal time with the recurrent one...it just gives the characters and their motivations so much more depth. And I'm just a sucker for a Romeo & Juliet plotline, anytime.
Mary Ellen and Clay are separated by the machinations of her parents and a suitor who would like to marry Mary Ellen, but who knows he doesn't stand a chance unless Clay is taken out the picture. The parents rationalize their actions by thinking that surely, the feelings Mary Ellen has for Clay are nothing more than a teenage crush she'll soon get over. And Clay, well, he's a nice boy, but he's just not their class, and surely he'll get over his infatuation too?
Wrong, so wrong. Both Mary Ellen and Clay become emotionally frozen following their enforced breakup, and I enjoyed the way this author portrayed their equal failure to recover from their mutual "infatuation" and the lies that brought about the separation. When the war brings Clay back to Memphis (his former home town) Mary Ellen believes she hates him; he believes he hates her, but luckily, there's an unusual plot twist which helps them both see they were victims of a well-meant plot.
My only real problems with the book are ones which annoy me in almost every Civil War-era romance I've read. The war is portrayed as "Civil War lite"; basically nothing more than an inconvenience which deprives the ladies of coffee to drink with their chocolate cake. And the remaining slaves on the Preble plantation are the "Sho' nuff, Massa, I's still yo' slave"-type, a portrayal which may be somewhat historically accurate, but which to me just smacks ever so gently of racism. I hasten to add, I'm not accusing the author of this book, or anyone else who writes a Civil War romance, of racism. It's just my New York sensibilities are a little offended by the portrayal of black people as enslaved, somewhat buffoonish subcharacters. Which is one reason why I generally avoid a Civil War-era romance novel, because almost all of them have this characteristic.
Mary Ellen's eventual divorce from the suitor who wanted her so badly is nothing more than a blip on her social radar which is generally ignored. Huh? A divorce in the late 1850's was not only extremely difficult to get, I'm sure it made the participant completely ostracized by polite society.
Still, despite some flaws, this story is really strongly focused on the romantic past and the reunion of its main characters. Their romance is sensual, engaging, and touching enough for me to put aside my complaints and just go along with it, rooting for them to overcome their obstacles and get their happy ever after. I'm also intrigued enough by the quality of this book to look for other ones on Nan Ryan's backlist, and that's always a good thing. At least, I hope so!