Wade By Jennifer Blake
(Mira, $6.50,PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-898-X
****
Admittedly, Wade doesn't have the most plausible of storylines, but there is enough fact mixed with the fiction to hold a romance reader's attention. And you can't ask for a timelier enemy than the Taliban - it makes the romance and the suspense in Wade pretty compelling reading.

In a note after the story, the author explains how she started Wade before September 11, 2001. Ms. Blake's inspiration for this romance was the plight of women in Afghanistan and the courage of many to defy laws that would keep their female children from learning to read and write.

Chloe Madison was just fourteen when her mother decided to remarry and move to Hazaristan, a relatively peaceful and progressive country. At least it was until Hazaristan was taken over by the Taliban. Like the women of Afghanistan, Hazaristan women are forbidden to show their faces in public and they may not attend school. In addition, corporal punishment for women is encouraged. A woman convicted of adultery or having premarital sex can be executed for her "crime."

Chloe's life shatters when her stepfather is conscripted to fight for the Taliban and her mother is stoned on the street. Chloe's letters to her father begging for his help are never answered and she is left to the mercy of her stepbrother, Ahmad. Ahmad is a Taliban fanatic and hates all things Western.

Years go by and Chloe learns to subdue her spirit in order to survive. Chole feels she has a great purpose as a member of an underground movement, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Along with her beloved stepsister, Treena, and other RAWA members, Chloe risks her life by teaching young women who would otherwise receive no education.

So when Wade Benedict shows up at the behest of her recently deceased father to rescue her, Chloe refuses to go. Even when she learns that her father never received her letters and that he has left her a substantial amount of money, she still thinks she shouldn't leave her students and her cause.

Wade, on the other hand, has no intention of leaving Chloe in Hazaristan. He plans to fulfill his obligation to Chloe's father by taking her back to America. Wade also can't stop thinking about what Chloe might look like if her face wasn't covered.

While Wade is trying to convince Chloe to leave Hazaristan, Ahmad informs her he intends to marry her (he wants her father's money). Under Taliban law, Chloe has no right to refuse. Chloe realizes she has no choice but to escape with Wade.

It's easy to get caught up in this story, even though you have to wonder why Chloe's mother and natural father didn't get her out of Hazaristan as soon as the political climate became so intolerant - at least to the average American.

Also, since her stepbrother dislikes her so, you would have assumed he would have tried to marry her off years ago. Or sent her back to her father in America - since Ahmad would have seen Chloe has her father's responsibility.

However, if any of the above had happened, there wouldn't be a story here. I decided to let those thoughts go so I could enjoy the story. And I did enjoy the story. Certainly the Taliban, their connection to al Qaeda, makes this political group the best (or is that the worst?) of bad guys. I should point out that the author does make it clear that Muslims are not bad people and that it's the Taliban's oppressive stance toward women that is intolerable.

And the romance in Wade is as interesting as the politics. Wade is smitten with Chloe from the start; he thinks she is the one for him. Chloe never wanted to marry because she knew she could never be the kind of wife the Taliban insisted upon. Chloe's struggle to find her way and overcome her fear of marriage keeps the romance interesting.

--Judith Flavell


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