Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Agape by Maytee Aspuro y Gonzalez

Publisher:         Hillside Press

Agape is the second book in a trilogy about Episcopal priest Beth Kelly and her partner Nicole Thera, who sees herself as a spiritual person, but not a believer in religion as Beth practices it.  Beth has taken a sabbatical from her position with a church to work as a chaplain in a hospital.  She is struggling to regain the closeness she once felt to her god.  Nikki is trying to rebuild her business after it was destroyed by a fire.  The main issue in the book is whether two people who have such different views can find a way to communicate and co-exist.

This book is unique because it deals with the tensions that exist in a relationship when the partners have such different visions of religion.  It could be said that Aspuro y Gonzalez makes the story more complicated by having the couple be lesbians, except that their lesbianism never really plays a part in the discussion.  These are not women who are battling a church.  They are trying to find a way to bring their ideas together as much as possible to make their lives work.  Beth’s beliefs shape every part of her life and it is a struggle for her that Nikki will not share her feelings.  Nikki isn’t an atheist.  Quite the contrary since she is an avid student of all theological texts.  She takes a more universal view of religion and god though and cannot share Beth’s total surrender to her own vision.  Nikki doesn’t want to share Beth with God, but she realizes she has no choice if wants to live with a woman she truly loves.

The interesting aspect of this book is that it doesn’t follow the traditional formula of romances, but deals with a very real issue that confronts many couples.  There’s never any doubt that Beth and Nikki love each other, but their lives are founded on basic and fundamental differences.  Any relationship requires compromises in order for it to work, but some compromises are bigger than others.  These women have to struggle to find a faith in each other that can provide a foundation strong enough to support their differences.  This is a battle that often doesn’t end successfully for the people involved.

Religion, or the lack of it, is a very personal and emotional topic for most people.  It takes great confidence for an author to tackle it as honestly as Aspuro y Gonzalez does.  She takes the reader on a journey with her characters.  Beth and Nikki don’t preach at each other.  Each of them has questions about her own beliefs, but she stands by her basic position.  This is not a story where once partner suddenly renounces what she has said and accepts the other’s values.   By open and honest discussion they search for the common ideas that bind them together.  Where they end up may not be what the reader expects.

Agape is a thoughtful book, but the story is told basically as a romance.  A reader doesn’t have to be concerned about being bogged down in theological discussions, but she may find herself weighing her own beliefs while she enjoys the story.  It’s an easy book to read, but not for someone who is looking for the simple romances that are so popular.

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