Book Review: Awakening Hearts
Reviewed by Alexandra Barbush
Love, life, and struggles in identity across centuries
Awakening Hearts: a tale of love across lifetimes poses two love stories side by side: that of Alex Fischer and Sage Morales, present-day independent women in California, and Claudia and Lizzy Harrington, country farm girls thrown together in 1800s Ohio.
The story interweaves these two narratives with a back-and-forth structure of chapter for chapter that slowly tells a similar story of the women’s quest for self-understanding, love, and identity.
Claudia enters Lizzy’s life when she comes to stay with Lizzy’s family on her rural farm in Ohio in 1862. Claudia has a traumatic backstory that lands her in the care of the Harrington family. Bent on earning her keep, Claudia dives into the family chores and helps manage the household, with the help of the eldest family daughter, Lizzy.
Tensions and touches begin to rise between the two girls, and it becomes clear that close friendship is something more. While their love grows and blossoms into the most serious relationship either of them has ever had, Mrs. Harrington starts looking to marry Claudia off, as is fit for a woman her age. Afraid of being caught and of what their newfound freedom means, Lizzy and Claudia will have to decide what’s most important to them.
Meanwhile, in present day California, Sage Morales is a massage therapist with a very interesting new client. Alex Fischer enters her office one day and the energy between them is palpable. Sage feels like she’s known her before.
Worried about her professional ethics, Sage tries to distance herself from a friendship with Alex, but ultimately can’t stay away, assigning her to another therapist. While their friendship blossoms with hiking trips, dinner dates, and meeting each others’ family and friends, Alex maintains she is not gay and is a committed Christian woman hoping to find a husband.
After a visit to her psychic friend, Sage sees a vision of her and Alex in a past life—as Lizzy and Claudia. Convinced that this means something, Sage tries to stick by Alex as she comes to terms with who she REALLY is, eventually revealing she’s been with women, her greatest shame. Sage has to make a decision, deny who she is and help Alex with her possible transition away from her church and toward her true lesbian self, or walk away from Alex, the greatest love she’s ever known.
Angie K. Love’s lesbian literary novel is catchy and keeps us constantly engaged. With short chapters and a consistent back and forth between present day and the 1800s, the reader quickly starts to understand that Sage and Alex are Lizzy and Claudia in a past life—long before Love explicitly states it in a “vision” of Sage’s.
The typical tragic lesbian tropes abound, both in 19th century Ohio and present day California. The Lizzy/Sage characters are sure of themselves, have experimented earlier on, and know what they want from life and love.
The Claudia/Alex characters come from a traumatized background and are less willing to see themselves in a nontraditional life and partnership. While we expect the two narratives to play out simultaneously and similarly, Love does a good job of surprising us and reminding us what exactly past lives are for—learning, growing, and changing.
With no real happy endings, but a slight sliver of hope, readers wanting a clear narrative will be disappointed—such is life and the gay experience. Especially surprising is the shift in Lizzy late in the novel, who was so sure of herself all along. While tragic lesbianism is the forefront of the novel, certain characters are surprising in context. The several male characters set in rural Ohio in the 1800s being incredibly and instantly accepting of Lizzy and Claudia’s love, may be difficult to reckon with.
I’d recommend Awakening Hearts to anyone interested in dramatic and engaging love stories. It’s a fast and fun read with a back-and-forth narrative that never feels boring. Most characters are women and most of the love/drama centers around gayness, lesbianism, and bisexuality. Readers uncomfortable or unwilling to engage with the full range of sexuality may not be interested.
This novel is a joy to read. Love asks the reader to jump in fully and believe several tropes: love at first sight, past life love connections, and surprisingly woke Christian white men in rural 1800s Ohio; if you’re willing to jump in, you’ll enjoy thoroughly it.
Genre: Literary Fiction / LGBTQ
Print Length: 470 pages
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