The Key to Everything

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


The Key to Everything


Valerie Fraser Luesse



Publication Date:

June 2020




352 pages


For as long as Peyton Cabot can remember, everyone in the family has talked about his father’s bike ride from St. Augustine, Florida to Key West when he was only fifteen. Peyton hasn’t given the idea of following his father’s footsteps much thought, until a tragic accident starts splitting his family apart and he discovers a shocking family secret. With help from a few relatives and close friends, Peyton retraces his father’s steps in hopes of finding his heart, a sense of who his father was at his age, and maybe learn a little more about who he is.

Luesse takes a variety of tropes which are common in Christian Romance novels, ideas which often fall flat, and yet she manages to make them work. The book is filled with romanticized images of a pre-1960s America, but Luesse shows dark characters around this society’s edges (and sometimes more out in the open than anyone would expect). This keeps the story from becoming an idealized story about what America was in the 1950s, which given the moral hypocrisy and materialism of the period would be problematic. The villains are not particularly complex, and a few characters speculate that some people are “just born mean,” but there’s an undercurrent that suggests this isn’t quite true. The primary villain is the product of a family where the father clearly showed favoritism and sometimes spoiled family members rather than love them well. So, if there is any moral to the story, it’s that family culture can impact people in twisted ways, making them into fools and worse. This makes the novel more complex and satisfying than similar novels where the villain is a one-dimensional cruel mother-in-law or selfish parent and the reader never gets any explanation about what made those villains who they are.

Most notably, Luesse does a great job of describing the Southern landscape, with all kinds of details that make it come alive in readers’ heads. This makes the romance (both the romantic relationships and the “romance of adventure”) compelling and plausible. A well-developed setting can make melodrama work, even melodrama that pushes the boundaries of plausibility. Thus, story elements which could have easily just been Hallmark fare become something more interesting.

A charming, moving story about love and finding one’s self, which actually makes such well-worn ideas feel powerful again.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christian romance fans, particularly those who enjoy stories about Southern life.

Christian Impact

The main character grapples with betrayal from family and friends, and learns important lessons about what it means to have a healthy family from seeing other people’s mistakes. More generally, the way his parents love each other proves to be a model of what devotion looks like even in the face of challenge.

The Key to Everything


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  2. | Claiming Her InheritanceEvangelical Church Library Association - December 30, 2021

    […] with these elements. She doesn’t rise above genre constraints like Valerie Fraser Luesse does in The Key to Everything, but she gives something enjoyable and tender. Readers familiar with Christian Romance will be […]

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