First introduced as a minor character in Robin Jones Gunn's A Whisper and a Wish, Katie Weldon eventually earned her own series.Finally & Forever, which released last month, is the fourth book in the series that bears Katie's name.
After a spontaneous decision the night before, California girl and recent college graduate Katie Weldon finds herself on a Nairobi-bound plane. When she wakes from a doze, reality crashes in and Katie realizes that she is not only sitting next to Eli Lorenzo, her ex-boyfriend's former roommate, but she's headed to Africa with no plans to return home anytime soon. Overwhelmed by what that decision might mean for her future and for her blossoming relationship with Eli, she heads to the bathroom, where a mini panic attack ensues.
Can you blame her?
Once back in her seat, she's calmed by Eli's steady presence and, after the warm welcome she receives from his family and the wonders she glimpses in this ancient land, Katie begins to realize that perhaps Africa, Eli and the Lorenzo family are just what she needs to help discover what God wants her to do with her life.
Absolutely lovable and relatable as a protagonist, Katie Weldon is just the sort of girl you would want your daughter to hang out with — which could be why she was such a hit as Christy Miller's best friend in the original Christy Miller series. Now grown, Katie is the sort of heroine you root for, even when you are as confused as she is as to what exactly it is that you're rooting for her to accomplish.
Katie is all sorts of fun and has no trouble laughing at herself. She's spontaneous and quick with humor even though her jokes sometimes fall flat with those around her; but she's also the kind of girl who quickly bounces back from uncomfortable situations in which her words might get her into a little bit of trouble.
Eli is fairly serious but has a dry sense of humor that makes him more believable than a lot of "career missionary" characters in fiction. The conflicts that arise between he and his missionary parents are quite believably written and universal to the parent-child experience, even if the landscape is a little more exotic than most of us are used to. He is romantic but also a total guy. Sometimes he doesn't grab the opportunities he should to clarify the details he assumes Katie will naturally understand.
Clearly, he's husband material.
Gunn weaves the romantic thread of the story through some surprising events, and Katie and Eli must deal with communication issues and process the "what if" scenarios attached to the different paths their futures could take in Africa, whether they wind up together or apart. As would be expected by the title, Katie does get a nudge toward her HEA in every area of her life, and I must say that Robin Jones Gunn has penned one of the most touching and lovely proposal scenes that I've read in a long time. Actually, I'm sighing just thinking about it — and maybe wishing, just a little bit, that my hubby and I could get a do-over ... in Kenya … with hundreds of candles … and some picturesque tea fields in the background.
Even readers who've never thought of visiting Africa might long for a Kenyan stamp on their passport after seeing the beauty of this country through Katie's eyes. In fact, Kenya itself almost becomes a character within the story. The descriptions of the landscape, the cuisine, the culture and the people are so vivid — and Katie is so filled with wonder at it all — that the reader experiences falling in love with Africa along with Katie Weldon.
The Katie Weldon series is a spin-off of Gunn's hugely popular multiseries Christy Miller saga. Adult readers may remember meeting Katie at a Christy Miller slumber party back when book two of the original series was released in 1989, but I'm sure this book will appeal just as well to Gunn's established readers as it will for those who haven't read any of her previous YA titles.
Katie Weldon and her cohorts have aged with enviable slowness since the book in which she first appeared. (I had skyscraper bangs, shoulder pads and a thing for big-haired drummers in 1989. Now I have crow's feet, a teenage daughter and a standing appointment with my colorist!) But Robin Jones Gunn has done a fabulous job of not dating her books by keeping her characters familiar to original readers while adjusting subtle details to make their vocabularies and settings contemporary for today's teens. It was fun to see Katie Weldon, a character so many girls have grown up with, as a young woman; and it was a treat to go along with her on an adventure to Africa with the guy who could, finally and forever, be The One.
(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)
The proposal scene in Finally & Forever has inspired me to give you all a chance to dream up your perfect marriage proposal. In a few lines or a short paragraph, describe your idea of the ideal, romantic marriage proposal. Maybe it's even the one one you got! Or, maybe it's the one you dream of or the proposal you hope for your own daughter. In any case, leave your thoughts on the "perfect" romantic proposal in the comments below. One winner will be chosen at random (thanks, random.org!) to receive my copy of Robin Jones Gunn's Finally & Forever (thanks to Robin Gunn and Candice at DJC Communications for the copy!) Contest runs though 7/24/12 -- don't forget to leave me your spam-free email address(jane dot doe at jmail dot com) Good luck!