“Because I Loved You” by Donnaldson Brown

In some ways, the broad scope of Because I Loved You (She Writes Press 2023) by Donnaldson Brown never fully transcends its opening chapters about the impact of a first love. The novel spans several decades in a relationship between a couple who first fall in love as adolescents. The novel’s early sections which involve the teens’ initial attraction and discovery of each other is told evocatively. Tenderness and sorrow compete with each other. A pretty teen girl and a handsome boy, both horse lovers in Texas, meet when his beloved horse runs away in a storm. Her father is a veterinarian, and she knows her way around horses too. When she catches the runaway horse and nurses the animal’s wound, the two meet, and the love story begins. But a heart-rending event threatens to overwhelm them, first driving them apart but later drawing them closer. That the protagonists’ individual stories will move on from each other as they mature only enhances the opening tenderness of their star-crossed love.

As a teen in East Texas, 1972, sixteen-year-old Leni O’Hare might be tomboyish and strong, but she is ill prepared for the tragedy that nearly derails her and her family. Much of the strength of the first half of the novel is her struggle to move past her anguish at an untimely and unforeseeable death. This part of the story is excellent and captures grief and healing in its many nuances.

Leni wants to be an artist and proves herself obviously talented. The boy, Caleb McGrath, is a physics genius, with his brainy ambitions clashing with his father’s demands. Clearly Leni’s and Caleb’s paths lead in different ways, and this only becomes more complicated as the story develops. Still, they both want him to escape the small Texas community which is stifling his abilities and intelligence. To that end, Leni makes a sacrifice Caleb does not even know about as he leaves for a prestigious college back east. Her bitter, close-kept secret shapes the rest of the novel as she struggles to carve a place for herself.

Even before Leni’s sacrifice, things rarely went smoothly for the young couple. Caleb’s parents are rich; Leni’s are not poor but certainly do not rise to Caleb’s father’s standards. Leni and her foreign-born mother do not get along and the tension between them drives Leni to rash actions. Caleb and his domineering dad seem to bring out the worst in each other, driving Caleb to deception.

When Leni and Caleb break apart as teens, it’s not surprising. When they meet again years later in New York as vastly different people, it is also not really surprising what happens next. But then the story takes a twist that is not wholly predictable, and which adds poignancy to the story.

The writing is rich with frequent lyrical phrases and a good many similes and metaphors to dress it up. Some of the best writing conveys the tenderness of young love—between Leni and Caleb as well as between the two teens and their horses. This is a story that might well remind you of your first love.

Donnaldson Brown

The author Donnaldson Brown brings a lot of what she knows to the story as she grew up riding horses across the Texas plains. An attorney and former screenwriter, she is a current fellow of Craigardan Arts Colony and past fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. She divides her time between New York and Massachusetts.




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