Last year I read Temptation thinking it would be a wonderful, moving, romantic story - and an insightful peek into Amish life. And while it was very romantic at times, I had some serious issues with the book, issues which, unfortunately weren't resolved in any way in Belonging. In fact, it was a disappointment in almost every way.
So, I need to rant for a minute.
*drags soapbox out from under bed*
Oh, and this review will contain spoilers. I can't properly explain my issues with Belonging without them. So if you have not read both books, please to back away now.
Belonging does one thing I liked: it builds on the relationship between Noah and Rose, but to do so, it tears down both characters and reveals their ugliest thoughts and actions. I want to get this part out of the way first, because it REALLY disappointed me. Their relationship is completely unhealthy, especially considering they both are constantly trying to force the other to change to suit their wants/needs - and when that doesn't work, they use their actions to try to hurt the other. Rose commits more strongly to the Amish, all the while hoping she can use Noah's "addiction" to her to make him become English. Even at the point where she's baptized into their church, she still admits she doesn't "get" their religion, and doesn't believe in their ways. It was clear to me at so many points that Rose was in way over her head, but she just kept plowing forward, ignoring her misgivings in order to be with Noah.
For his part, Noah is never satisfied with Rose, and can't accept her as she is. She isn't the passive girl he's looking for, and he even thinks that he both loves and hates her spirit. And this is the girl he wants to spend the rest of his life with - but he hates something about her? NO. Sorry hoss, it doesn't work that way. Noah seems to think he can control Rose by choosing her friends for her, guiding her toward his less flashy sisters, and thus alter her ways. And even though Rose is selfish and manipulative at times, she's also very young and very scared, and I think Noah was extremely judgmental of her at times - and used his Amish upbringing against her to control her. Noah made me so mad so often - making snap judgements about how "loose" other girls, even Rose were, thinking poorly about others, and basically being completely creepy. He never stopped to wonder if Rose was doing the right thing by fitting into his world or if she was happy; he only cares about controlling her. Noah's motto is basically: "if she says something I don't agree with, I'll just kiss her to shut her up."
I will say, although they both spent WAY too much time letting their hormones decide their actions, I do think that Noah and Rose really DO love one another. Hopkins did a better job of showing me that in Belonging versus telling me as she did in Temptation. Several months pass in Belonging, and both Rose and Noah still appear in love, so it made it difficult to be so against them, but they're poisonous for each other. My heart went out to them, loving one another with so many obstacles, but neither of them was willing to really bend for the other. Rose tried, but Noah wasn't willing to sacrifice ANYTHING to be with Rose. Like I said, they were totally unhealthy. When they're separated, Noah pursues a relationship with another Amish girl, even going so far to ask her to marry him, even though he KNOWS he isn't in love with her. Noah's brilliant logic is that if he can't have Rose, he'll hurt her by marrying someone else - he literally thinks that. And Rose ignores her feelings for Noah and jumps into another relationship too soon.
I just wanted to tell them both that sometimes...you can love someone with all your might and still not be meant to be together. SIGH.
The ONE good thing that came out of all the bull was Hunter. Hunter is genuinely a good, awesome guy and good FOR Rose. He encourages and supports her. He wants to make her happy. And for awhile, I had hope, this brief little hope that Rose would let him. But like I said, she jumped into that relationship before she was over Noah, then went running back to Noah at the first chance. SIGH. She said it right - she and Noah are addicted to each other, and it makes me angry to see such an unhealthy relationship - even if they do love one another - portrayed as the be-all/end-all relationship for both of them.
Plot-wise, Belonging is ridiculous. From the moment Rose - a minor - was allowed into what seems to be a slightly progressive but still largely traditional Amish community, I felt like rolling my eyes. Rose was basically a little girl playing at being Amish the entire time, and it hurt me to see her family either largely absent, or only in Belonging when they were bashing the Amish. Her formerly awesome family was reduced to the part of villains in Belonging, which GRRR. I could sort of accept her living within the Plain community, but when she was allowed to become a member of the church without her parent's consent, which snowballed and led to her father basically "kidnapping" her away from the Amish? EYEROLL. Belonging deviated into bad soap opera territory at that point and through several other twists and turns. Perhaps the one that pissed me off the most was that Belonging ends with Rose pregnant - which is nothing more than a convenient way of tying up her and Noah's story in Forever.
I've sat here trying to think of something good to say, but there isn't much. Most of the Amish men in Belonging are presented as flat, Bible-thumping elders with no personality at all, and the women are largely the same. I didn't even see them show any passionate devotion to God at any point - just spouting rules and Bible passages by rote. Any women who aren't dull and pious are obviously "loose" and "rebels" - because those are the only roles for them. I know the Amish hold to their traditions and their beliefs, and maybe I'm just too feminist for this book. But I do believe that there can be love and some spirit in these communities between the couples, and so many of the characters were just downright hostile toward Rose, and in their attitudes toward women.
If I was to find some good, it's that I do enjoy Hopkins's writing style. And Belonging, while largely terrible, held my attention. I did end up wanting to know what happened - like watching a really bad movie you can't take your eyes off of. Having finished, I might read Forever out of pure morbid fascination, and a need to see how it all ends - but if I do, it will be with no expectations at all.