Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Beyond Romance: Themes in Mountains Between Us

At face value, you could sum up the plot of the novel Mountains Between Us, by Jenny Proctor, by calling it “yet another archetypal romantic comedy.” The main plot line follows the same format that virtually every story in this genre has followed since Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice: a man and a woman meet, are initially attracted to each other, but they have difficulty in admitting it to themselves and to each other, they furtively begin a love/hate relationship and/or friendship while concealing their true feelings, have a misunderstanding, separate from one another, are inconsolable during their time apart, and realize through this experience that they genuinely love each other, and ultimately end up together.

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But that would be selling this story short of all that it really is.

Mountains Between Us takes place — fittingly — in the Appalachian Mountains, and centers on characters who live and work at a wilderness school meant to help troubled teenagers to reform themselves. The basic premise is that the female lead of this story, Eliza, begins her new job as a counselor at this school and is immediately drawn to Henry, a reclusive and shy English teacher. These two main characters, Henry and Eliza, both happen to be Mormons, but this is no more a cosmetic detail than this novel is merely a “rom-com love story.”

And, even though the story moves on to include dramatic elements — which one can expect when the field of counseling is involved — this story is also more than a drama.

Without being overt or preachy, Proctor works into her story strong themes of principles that are dearly important to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — namely, faith, forgiveness, conversion, and healing. The sub-plots of the story show that the peripheral characters have lives replete with these principles, often, though not always, directly because of their faith in God. And through the experiences that Henry and Eliza witness or help along (I’ll give no specifics to prevent spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the book), we in turn see them develop greater faith in themselves, faith in each other, forgiveness of themselves, forgiveness of each other, and result in greater conversion and healing as a whole.

As one who is not generally the most enthused by the romance or romantic comedy genres, these additional themes were very compelling and made me feel like I genuinely cared about these characters and their various relationships and exploits. They furthermore caused me as a reader to consider what role faith has played in my ability to give and obtain forgiveness, conversion, and healing.

In short, Proctor’s novel can serve as a dramatic type of romance story, but to the willing heart and mind, it can be much more.


  1. Ha! I love the first paragraph of this, it's so perfect. I really like your focus and observation on the LDS principles, too. I think those are so prominent in the lives of those in the LDS faith, they could easily be overlooked and not explicitly addressed by someone so deep inside of them. Great review!

  2. I totally agree! I really cared about these characters and found myself reading just because I was worried about what might happen to them. This novel can be read as much more than a romance and I think some tender lessons can be learned if the reader doesn't just pass this book off as a cheesy Mormon romance. I loved it!

  3. "Not being overtly preachy" was one of the strengths I saw as well. They were just living there lives. Good examples, but not perfect ones.