Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything.
With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn’t even consider those real subjects!
Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys’ coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She’s returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.
However, the more time she spends around Jewel’s family, the girls’ basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she’s given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she’d expected.
It’s difficult to believe that Playing by Heart is only Anne Mateer’s fourth novel. Once again, she has taken us back to the early 20th century Midwest, and this time we stop in the imaginary town of Dunn, Oklahoma. It’s a small town, where everyone knows each other, and where Lula can’t escape her past reputation as Fruity Lu. She was known to be flighty, unable to stick with anything and not to be taken seriously. Now, she’s not only expected to teach music to high school students but to also coach the girls’ basketball team after the previous coach goes off to fight in World War One. Meanwhile, Chet’s family moved to Dunn to escape a shameful past. His brother has been drafted and the siblings have agreed that Chet should stay home to look after their widowed mother.
Dunn’s inhabitants are characters of various beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. They are male and female, young and old. Lula’s older siblings aren’t supportive of her attending college, a common opinion of the time. Chet’s mother thinks her son is a coward because he won’t leave to fight and throws herself into Red Cross activities. The high school principal has a particular code of conduct for female teachers, but also needs female teachers as he loses the male ones to the war. The students have similar issues to their modern day counterparts: conflicts with parents, struggles with certain subjects, and teen romances.
In Playing by Heart, Mateer has created a believable town with realistic scenarios. It draws you in and keeps you interested. It’s a fascinating snapshot of time in small town America in 1918 and gives the reader an idea of how their closest ancestors lived during that period. After just four books, I’m a firm fan of Anne Mateer and I hope you become one as well.
Thank you to Bethany House for my complimentary electronic copy of Playing by Heart, which I downloaded from NetGalley. No review was required.
Do you plan to read Playing by Heart? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Bethany House
Publication Date: 16 September 2014
Page Count: 320