Rendezvous by Bridget Anderson
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-7860-0485-1
***
You're a newcomer in a big city. You have no friends or relatives. You have no job, no money. Everything you've had of value has been taken from you. Your husband has been murdered and his killers are now after you. There is no one you can trust. What's a girl to do?

Jade Post Bassett is homeless and on the run. It seems that her late husband had a secret life. He gambled away their life savings and got mixed up with some pretty shady characters who are now after her. She doesn't know why. And, to make matters worse, the police seem to be in cahoots with the bad guys.

For three months, Jade alternates between the streets of Atlanta to warming centers and soup kitchens to homeless shelters. She is almost raped in a homeless shelter and almost prefers life on the streets to the shelters. At a church soup kitchen she meets Jeffrey Nelson, a graphic artist who volunteers at his church. Something about Jade strikes a chord with Jeff. She reminds him of his younger sister who died alone and on drugs in California. He wonders why she is homeless and would like to help her. He couldn't save his sister. Maybe he can save Jade.

When no women-only shelters are available, Jade reluctantly agrees to stay at Jeff's overnight. It is hard for her to trust anyone, so after being reassured by the church pastor she'll be safe, she stays with Jeff. Their initial agreement is for just one night. But Jeff desperately wants to help her and sets up an ambitious six-month plan to "get her back on her feet." He pulls out all the stops. He enlists his best friend Trina to help with clothes and grooming and sets up a job interview for Jade.

Jade is one-step ahead of the killers, who have begun murdering homeless women in their pursuit of her. She only wants a place to hide. Jeff's plan will only force her out into the open where the killers might find her. She doesn't want to appear ungrateful, but Jade is overcome by fear.

But what should Jade fear most? (A) The killers who are out to get her; (B) Cheryl, Jeff's possessive ex-girlfriend; (C) Her growing attraction to the gorgeous Good Samaritan who has taken her in; or (D) All of the above?

Rendezvous is Atlanta writer Bridget Anderson's second novel. Her first, Soul Mates, was published last year. Her best work is "Imani," a Kwanzaa story in Arabesque's 1997 Moonlight and Mistletoe holiday collection.

The beginning of the novel moves slowly and deliberately. Jade is not going to trust easily and the early pace of the book allows the character's skepticism about her new circumstances to develop naturally. Jeff is almost too good to be true. Both Jade and the reader need time to figure him out. As Jade becomes more accepting and begins to relax, the pace of the book and their attraction pick up logically.

Jade is a college graduate who learns that "street smarts" can be more valuable than specialized training in life-and-death situations. Anderson has given us a character who may be down, but not out. She may have lost her home and her possessions, but she has not lost her self-esteem. She has not plunged so deep in despair that she doesn't care that her perm has grown out and that she needs a manicure!

Anderson's Rendezvous tells us a lot about homelessness without being preachy. She challenges our perceptions about the homeless and our notions about how the problem can be solved. She points out the possible dangers of misguided idealism. Anderson also makes us question how we might react if faced with a similar situation.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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