Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Year of Luminous Love by Lurlene McDaniel

This complex and at times heartwarming novel tells the story of three girls, best friends, who face numerous challenges in the year after high school.

Ciana Beauchamp is heir to the Beauchamp farm which has been in her family for generations. Her father and grandfather died when she was six years old in the crash of their single-engine Cessna. Ciana's grandmother, Olivia, who is now eighty-five years old, had looked after Bellmeade after their deaths. Unfortunately, Olivia's daughter, Alice Faye, is an alcoholic. Now that Olivia is suffering from dementia, running Bellmeade has fallen on Ciana's shoulders.

Artemis Diane Winslow or Arie as she is called by her friends, is in remission from the cancer she has been fighting since she was five years old. Arie plans on attending Middle Tennessee State University in the fall to study art history. As a celebration for being in remission, Arie's family has arranged for her to have her own horse, a private trainer and six months of private boarding, feed, and tack at Bill Pickin's cattle ranch.

Eighteen year old Eden McLauren lives most of the time with her boyfriend, Tony Cicero. Eden met Tony when she was fourteen years old when she was once again abandoned by her mother, Gwen, who suffers from manic-depressive disorder.Unable to cope with the repeated abandonment by her mother, Eden began cutting herself to ease the pain of loneliness. Her relationship with Tony at first is one of friendship but soon becomes sexual. As time passes, Eden realizes that Tony is a drug dealer who is completely obsessed with her. His "love" and control over her life is now suffocating and she wants out.

The three young women planned to celebrate Arie's remission by going to a new dance hall in Nashville. However, a surprise barbecue for Arie by her family means she can't attend, so Ciana and Eden go together. It is at Boot Steppers that Ciana meets a handsome cowboy  who works on the rodeo circuit but who dreams of owning his own horse ranch someday. They hit it off immediately and spend the night together under the stars.  However, Ciana leaves abruptly and without giving the handsome stranger her name and phone number and without knowing his name either.

Weeks later Ciana discovers that the handsome stranger is Jon Peterson, who is Arie's horse trainer. As the weeks pass, Arie falls hard for Jon, unaware that he is only interested in Ciana. Despite Jon's repeated attempts to restart their relationship, Ciana refuses, mainly out of deference to her friend and at great personal cost. Although she loves Jon, she also values her friendship with Arie and doesn't want to see her friend hurt.

Meanwhile Eden struggles in her relationship with Tony and decides that somehow she must find a way out. When Ciana's grandmother, Olivia passes away, Ciana comes into a small fortune which is to be used for her education. Instead, hoping to escape her troubled relationship with Jon, Ciana decides to use the money to travel overseas to Tuscany, Italy. She rents a villa there and invites both Arie and Eden to come with her. For Eden, this is the perfect chance to escape Tony while the trip offers Arie a chance to finally see the beautiful art masterpieces of Europe.

However, for Arie the trip will mean a choice. She has just learned her cancer has returned and against her doctor's advice, Arie decides against treatment and also against telling her two best friends and her family. Arie comes to this decision because she realizes that her entire life has been defined by cancer and she no longer wants to live this way. She does however, confide in Jon who urges her, unsuccessfully, to tell them. Instead Arie travels to Europe, knowing that she will eventually become very sick. What the three young women do not know is that their stay in Tuscany will forever change their lives in ways they cannot imagine.

McDaniel has stated that she wrote The Year of Luminous Love for her teen fans who have grown up reading her novels and I would definitely agree it is for mature teens(18 +) and adults. Each of the characters have a complex set of problems and experience mature situations which overall make the story quite interesting. However there are some aspects to the story which did not appeal to me, one in particular, involving Arie and Jon.

Arie is desperately in love with Jon - it is a first love for her. Jon however, only loves Ciana, who refuses to publicly acknowledge her attraction to him, for fear of hurting Arie. Arie is her best friend who has never had a chance at love and who may never have that chance given her battle with cancer. Arie recognizes soon enough that Jon, although kind and respectful, doesn't reciprocate her feelings. Despite this, Arie cannot get over Jon and she takes the liberty of inviting him to Italy after they have arrived in the country. He accepts, for various reasons outlined in the story, but a main one is to see Ciana again. However once in Italy, Arie begs him to let her stay the night at his hotel. Although Jon has no feelings for her, when she continues to pressure him, he reluctantly agrees. He does this partly because Ciana once again rebuffs him - literally pushing Jon towards Arie, and also in what seems to be a sense of pity for Arie. This results in Jon and Arie spending two nights together. I have to say that this part of the novel bothered me more than any other aspect of the storyline.

Jon is portrayed from the beginning as a very honourable man - he's honest, hard-working and a protector. His role as a protector is demonstrated at the beginning of the novel when he doesn't take advantage of Ciana after she becomes intoxicated at Boot Steppers. When Arie shows obvious interest in him at the horse ranch, he again doesn't take advantage emotionally of her, but tries to keep his distance, knowing that his heart lies elsewhere. Even when she first asks Jon to sleep with her, he initially refuses but then he agrees. This choice is out of character for the person McDaniel has created throughout the first part of the novel. It is a choice that will have serious repercussions for Jon as he attempts to reestablish a relationship with Ciana later on.

By agreeing to sleep with Arie, a woman he doesn't love, Jon loses his honour and his role as a protector. He is lying with his body to Aries, a woman already deeply wounded both physically and emotionally by her lifelong battle with cancer. It is pretend love, something Arie knows deep inside but doesn't acknowledge until later on, when she visibly sees that Jon and Ciana love one another. Despite that fact that Arie maintains to the end of the novel that she doesn't regret her actions with Jon, one wonders why she feels this way, since what they shared was not real. Was it because she finally got to have sex with a man before she becomes too ill - and is she really that superficial? (There are several novels in the young adult canon focusing exactly on this theme -- as if having sex is the be all and end all of one's existence.)

The other aspect that bothered me about this, is Arie's using of Jon in what amounts to her seeking physical comfort for her loneliness and the justification for her behaviour because she is terminally ill. In the end,  Jon and Arie's actions in the end hurt themselves and Ciana. Both Arie and Jon's relationship with Ciana was strained, and created a great deal of conflict between all three characters. If I were Ciana, I would want no part of Jon Peterson after this.

I can see why McDaniel utilized this storyline as it created a great deal of drama and conflict in the novel, although she could have omitted the two-night stand and still have achieved the same level of interest.

Another aspect I wondered about was how realistic it would be for a cowboy on the rodeo circuit to travel over to Europe. These guys live and breathe bronco riding. Would a guy travel to Italy for four days to see three girls? 

In some ways this novel felt like a combination of a Harlequin cowboy romance and Under the Tuscan Sun - a movie about a newly divorced woman who spends time in beautiful Tuscany to try to recover from the loss of her marriage. But overall, The Year of Luminous Love is a good read for adult fans of Lurlene McDaniel  who will undoubtedly enjoy this novel despite some of the cliched dialogue and the few weak areas of the story. Where McDaniel excels is portraying with acute clarity, the suffering and the dignity of those who have serious illnesses and those who care for them. These kinds of characters allow her readers to identify with some of the basic questions about life and death.

The Year of Luminous Love is the first book in the Windemere series, the second of which will be published in 2014 and is titled, The Year of Chasing Dreams.

Book Details:
The Year of Luminious Love by Lurlene Mc Daniel
New York: Delacorte Press      2013
362 pp.

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