Surrender by Carmen Marcoux is the sequel to the book Arms of Love, in the two part series. Set in modern Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, these books focus on love, conversion, and discernment. Arms of Love follows the conversion of Brandon Vaughn and his courtship with Joanie Collins as they journey together towards the sacrament of marriage. In contrast, Surrender, is a story of discernment as it explores multiple character’s stories, including Brandon and Joanie’s, and how their lives intertwine in the community.
Surrender picks up five weeks after Arms of Love left off. As we saw in the first book, Brandon and Joanie are married, and they now begin the journey through the pregnancy of their first child. Unlike Arms of Love, Surrender focuses more on Joanie’s siblings and their discernment, as well as Joanie’s new vocation as a mother. It mainly follows Joanie’s two younger sisters, Amie and Maggie Collins, and how their discernment processes contrast which sets a different tone from the first book’s focus on the theme of courtship.
Amie and Maggie almost have opposite discernment journeys. Amie is a nineteen year-old hopeless romantic and experiences three very different romantic situations throughout the novel. First, she learns the hard way that she must guard her heart from careless takers and be selective of who she is willing to court. After entering a courtship with a friend who she has no feelings for, she discovers that just because a person may have all the qualities of Mr. Right, doesn’t mean God is calling you to marriage with that person. After exploring and discerning that she isn’t called to the religious life, she realizes that her best friend loves and cares about her very much and he just might be the man God has prepared for her in the Sacrament of Marriage.
On the other hand, her twenty-two year old sister Maggie has always felt drawn to the religious life, and is excited to be an aspirant with the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. While helping the Sisters’ loving and virtuous handyman with a long term house project, she discovers she can fall in love with a man other than Jesus, something she didn’t think was possible. She later has a dream in the night that she was married to this man, which causes her great turmoil and confusion in her spiritual life. As she continues with her discernment process she begins to see the beauty of marriage and the necessity of guarding her heart. With the help of the local priest, her spiritual director, and her older sister Joanie, Maggie realizes that her emotions were fleeting and her first love, Jesus, is calling her to be His bride.
Surrender does an amazing job of displaying what a Catholic discernment process could and should involve. It explains the beauty of vocations to marriage and consecrated life, and the importance of exploring all your options. The novel also shows clear examples of what a courtship should and should not look like for readers who know nothing about courtship. It allows the reader to see that though those called the consecrated life live out celibacy, they don’t live a life of emptiness because of family support and trust in God. Marcoux also touches on the first struggles of a Catholic marriage as the characters learn to live with the sacrifices and fears found in parenthood, while at the same time demonstrating the great joys these beautiful vocations bring.
Although the writing is not perfect, this is an amazing story that I would recommend to anyone discerning a vocation, any vocation, as it touches on so many vocations in detail. With the relatable characters and situations, it could really gives teens and adults alike insight on how to live their vocation and faith in everyday life. The solid Catholic characters and much needed messages make this book a true treasure.
By Gabriela Marie