Based on the courtship of John and Abigail Adams, Jody Hedlund's Rebellious Heart is a beautiful romance set amongst the first rumblings of rebellion prior to the American Revolution, when the British were abusing their authority over the colonists and cracking down on their laws of importation. Benjamin Ross is a poor country lawyer, the son of a farmer, lacking the wealth and good birth needed to improve his reputation. The younger daughter of a well-to-do clergyman, Susanna Smith improves her mind the best she can on her own, unable to have the education she desires - the education her younger brother takes for granted. Ben and Susanna do not get along very well, as he thinks she's snobbish and she disagrees with his traitorous politics. However, when Susanna finds a young woman in need of help, she feeds, clothes, and hides her, even though she is clearly runaway indentured servant, and therefore illegal to help. Trying to find a way to protect Dotty from her cruel master, she turns to Ben for legal help, which introduces them to an unexpected friendship and places them in a dangerous game of keeping one step ahead of the man chasing Dotty.
While Ben and Susanna are first friends before they are lovers - enjoying matching wit, debating politics, and working together to rescue Dotty - the author does an excellent job at creating an ever-present romantic tension between them. Their friendship, though, is what holds them together while Ben is still pursuing another woman and Susanna is caving to her parents' preference. It is a slow route to love, and certainly not without trials and stumbling blocks, but it is a sweet romance and solid basis for a relationship.
One of the biggest issues in the book - and it is one that has probably plagued Christians since Paul first wrote about it to the Romans (if not since Jesus provided the ultimate example) - is the command to be subject to the authorities, for God has placed them over us. But what is one to do when the authorities abuse their power? How far should one go before one says "enough!"?
Even though in New Testament times the authorities of the temple not only allowed but encouraged moneychangers and the sale of animals for sacrifice in the temple courts!, Jesus came twice and chased them out - once at the beginning of His ministry, and once just before they crucified Him. God made the temple a place for worship, to honor Him, not to provide a lucrative business for the corrupt leaders. As Jesus proved, ultimately, God's authority trumps man's authority - sometimes, to honor God, we must break from the authority of sinful man.
In Susanna's case, her decision essentially comes down to this - which
is worse: to be brought before the courts for showing compassion, or to
stand before God in the judgement and answer why she failed to help
those in need? Her heart leads her to the right decision, even if her
mind balks at the thought of the consequences. Jesus says in His word,
"Behold, I send you out as sheep amidst the
wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless a doves" (Matt
10:16). In protecting Dotty, Susanna is compassionate, harmless, and if
anything, righting wrongs - but to elude the Wolf, she and Ben must be wise as serpents.
Hedlund has written an excellent novel - not only is the plot thrilling and the romance sweet, but she has imbedded so much to ponder spiritually. We may not be on the cusp of revolution ourselves, but the tension with authority still bothers us today, whenever officials fail to choose the godly path or their corruption would have us join them. Thankfully, Jesus says, "all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth," so we can always appeal to His higher authority when our leaders fail. 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you to Bethany House for providing a free copy of this
novel for the purpose of review; I was not required to make it positive,
and all opinions are my own.