The Two of Us
I’ve been a Victoria Bylin fan since first reading her historical inspirationals, and several of her books sit on my Keeper shelf. So I was pleased to have the opportunity to review one of her contemporary novels, and a pleasure it was. The Two of Us is multi-layered, written from the heart, and subtle in its impact.
Mia Robinson, a Denver nurse practitioner reeling from the pain of a second broken engagement, decides to apply for a position with Mission Medical, an international aid organization. Her plan is to work overseas for a few years and then consider her next direction. During a pause in the interview process, Mia’s younger half-sister Lucy calls to announce that she is pregnant and she and the father are marrying in Las Vegas. As Mia has acted as a mother to Lucy for years, Mia flies to Vegas hoping to talk some sense into the mother-to-be.
Jake Tanner had a promising career in the Denver Police Department, and after the bombing that left him partially deaf and killed his partner, Connie, he has become a mentor and father figure for Sam, Connie’s son. Now Sam has asked Jake to serve as best man at his wedding in Las Vegas, and Jake is thrilled to be there. Jake also brings along Pirate, his hearing assist dog who also serves as an emotional alarm. Whenever Jake feels nervous, panicky, or uncertain, the dog’s first reaction is to climb into Jake’s lap.
When Mia has her first meeting with the wedding party, she is shocked to see Jake there, a man she met briefly in a Vegas coffee shop just a few hours ago. Her initial attraction ebbs since she and Jake do not see eye-to-eye on the upcoming wedding. Mia has no luck dissuading Lucy out of her decision, but the wedding does not go as planned. At the chapel, Lucy becomes unwell, and the group rushes to the ER. It turns out the baby is fine but the doctor recommends ‘pelvic rest’ – no strenuous activity or heavy lifting. After some intense discussions, they determine that the best course of action is for Lucy to move to Jake’s home in Echo Falls, Colorado. She’ll help his mother – who is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease – and will thus have company while Sam goes off to military leadership training for a month. The couple will wed in Echo Falls before Sam leaves for training.
Shortly afterward, Mia’s first interview with Mission Medical highlights her lack of experience in adapting to changing circumstances, so Mia moves to Echo Falls and takes over the local medical clinic to demonstrate her adaptability. Stated briefly, the events that bring the main characters to Echo Falls do sound contrived, but the author creates a flow in which readers of faith will sense God’s Spirit working through the characters and situations to affect the best outcome for all.
Since the inspirational themes take center stage in this novel, the romantic conflict is classic and straightforward – Mia is leaving in six months to serve with Mission Medical, so a relationship with Jake is impossible. This also plays into one of the major faith issues of the novel: discerning God’s true call. Mia faces a decision between Mission Medical and serving the Echo Falls community, possibly as Jake’s wife. For his part, Jake is trying to create a camp where children who were, like Sam, orphaned in the line of duty, can hang together and learn some life skills. Jake must decide if his youth camp is truly God’s will, even when he can see that the conflict over the camp is tearing his hometown apart.
Another theme focuses on building the foundation for a strong, committed marriage. For example, Jake’s parents’ bedrock of commitment helps them cope with Alzheimer’s, and later at Sam and Lucy’s wedding, the chaplain defines love as a conscious act, where promises are kept when they are most hard to keep.
The final inspirational theme tackles the many ways in which we can be heroes in life. In Lucy’s story, the author presents a common fear – that we are not good enough. Lucy compares her own undramatic life to Sam’s military service and Mia’s nursing. Although Lucy is not saving lives on a daily basis, she underestimates the power and love she brings to the world just by being who she is. The novel reminds us nicely of this important lesson. I especially enjoyed Lucy’s character. Lucy is a hyperactive, open-hearted person, and her language, body movement, and reactions convey that perfectly.
Overall, each character sounds different and how each approaches a situation is matched to personality. Ms. Bylin uses her ability to show faith with a subtle touch. For example, Sam’s faith is never mentioned until he explains to Mia that he believes his marriage will work because he and Lucy will put God at the center of their relationship and life together. The characters express their faith when it is most appropriate, in the way that I see and hear my friends express theirs.
If there is a flaw, it is that the upbeat touch surrounding Jake’s mother and her progressive Alzheimer’s rings a little false. The characters are sad, but the author does not show the depth of the emotional pain and the cycles of grief that can take a person completely by surprise.
Ms. Bylin hardly misses a beat to bring us a romance steeped in memorable characters, valuable life lessons, and smooth prose. I do believe I’ve just become a fan of her contemporary work as well as her historical novels, and I’m sure The Two of Us will convince you, too.