Not being normally a romance reader, I started picking up “inspirational romance” novels a few months ago in the name of market research — because I had a story I wanted to write that seemed it would fit better into that category than any other. Of all the inspirational romances I’ve read during this “market research” phase, I think Robin Lee Hatcher’s Catching Katie is the one I’ve enjoyed most, purely as a good read.
Like many people who don’t read a lot of romance, I have had my share of quibbles and even snootiness about the genre. Yes, it’s forumlaic, it’s light, it’s not “literary fiction,” it’s easy to read and rarely challenges the reader. It’s genre fiction and it conforms to the rules of its genre, which is what genre readers expect. I don’t think I could make a steady reading diet of only romances, inspirational or otherwise, but if they were all like Catching Katie I could certainly enjoy a few sprinkled among the more “serious” literary fare … kind of like putting chocolate chips in your Bran Flakes (which I have seriously considered doing, if only I thought the kids wouldn’t catch me!)
The heroine of Catching Katie is, of course, Katie, a young suffragette coming home to rural Idaho in 1916, after years away at college and in the big city, shocking the locals with her progressive ideas and winning the heart of the local newspaper editor even though she has sworn never to marry because she is devoted to The Cause. I will admit that reading the back-cover blurb on this novel both intrigued me and gave me some trepidation. Anti-feminist rhetoric is so common in many conservative evangelical circles today that I was afraid Katie’s suffragist ideals would be treated with condescension or outright disapproval. (Had I taken the time to read the dedication to the author’s grandmother, my fears would have been put to rest).
What I found instead was a sympathetic and well-researched — though, of course, light and romance-driven — portrait of a young feminist at the turn of the twentieth century, grappling with many real and believable issues. Katie and her would-be sweetheart Ben are indeed romance-novel stereotypes in many ways — she is cute and spunky and a bit stubborn; he is the childhood friend turned broad-shouldered hunk who falls in love with her without even realizing it. I found them appealing and enjoyable despite the stereotypes. More important, their conflicts seemed absolutely believable and kept me turning the pages to see how things would work out.
This novel sidestepped one of my biggest problems with romance novels — heroes and heroines who obviously love each other are often kept apart for pages and pages by ridiculous contrivances that could be easily overcome with a few honest conversations. In Catching Katie, the divided loyalties that keep Ben and Katie apart are believable — I sympathized with both of them and could not predict how the problem was going to be resolved. I mean, it’s a romance — I knew I could expect a happy ending, but I didn’t know how Hatcher was going to get us there and she kept throwing in plot twists that I didn’t expect and hadn’t seen coming. I was intrigued till the end.
The portrayal of the suffragists and their goals and ideals is definitely sympathetic as well as well-informed (although marriage and family are also held up as important goals which should not be incompatible with the pursuit of equality). Only one character annoyed me — a token bitter, twisted, man-hating feminist. Although I could see the importance of this character as a plot device, I also thought her presence had a bit of a political role in the novel, reminding conservative Christian readers that “of course there are also bad, man-hating feminists, and we wouldn’t want to be like them.” But other than this one stock character, the way in which the suffrage movement was depicted in those novel was enjoyable and informative.
One interesting note I learned from snooping about on the internet is that Catching Katie is a rewrite of a mainstream romance the author had published earlier, with a religious element added in for an inspirational audience. This interested me because the faith elements in the novel never felt “tacked on” to me but seemed an integral part of the story. Katie really believes God has called her to better the lives of women in America, and her faith is as important a part of the character as is her feminism. In the polarized religious/political atmosphere of the early 21st century, it is so easy to forget that so many of the feminists of 100 years ago were women of faith, deeply motivated by their belief that God created men and women with equal rights and equal opportunities. As well as being an enjoyable, satisfying romance, Catching Katie was a valuable reminder of that heritage.