Family Tree by Carol Grace
(Harl. American #836, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-16836-5
Laura McIntyre is planning to make the best of her divorce and forced sale of her family ranch. She hopes maybe this is the way for her to start over and to have her son learn to cope with his fatherís desertion. But Dylan McIntyre is persistent. He wants to be home, where his dad can return and find him. Home to eight-year-old Dylan, is the old treehouse that his father promised to help him fix up and never did.

For now Laura stays with her ailing aunt while she waits to see if she will get the one job in town that she is qualified for that would also provide her with a place to live. But Laura knows these temporary arrangements arenít going to work as a home for either her or Dylan.

Brandon Marsh could work and live anywhere. He buys the isolated ranch, not to have a home, but to escape. His entire family was killed in a car accident and he hopes that if he can get far enough away from his old life and from other people, he can numb himself to his pain. But people keep showing up in his refuge -- one stubborn eight-year-old in particular. The boy refuses to leave his rickety tree house and his mother doesnít know what to do to help. Brandon lures Dylan down once with a ride in his car. That isnít enough. The second time Brandon promises to help Dylan fix up the tree house if Dylan promises to only show up with an adult.

The relationship Brandon forges with the boy as they work on the tree house sounds plausible and right. Brandon doesnít want to care about anyone, especially a child, but he comes to care for Dylan. The same thing holds true for Dylanís mother. He doesnít want to worry about her truck with the bad tires and worse brakes, but he canít help it. He canít help caring about her, either, even though he doesnít want to.

Laura certainly has more than enough to take care of and worry about without trying to take on the grumpy stranger who has taken over her ranch and who doesnít even seem to appreciate the home-like qualities that generations of her family have created there. But Brandonís ability to deal with Dylan and his concern over her make her reassess what she wants and what Brandon really is.

Family Tree is sweet without being too sentimental. For a change the small town characters that populate the book didnít drive me crazy. Dylanís obsession with his tree house worked for the story -- although I did wonder if perhaps he sometimes acted a little younger than his given age.

Laura and Brandon, who struggle to not need anyone else and fail in a very satisfying way, work too. The ending, where Brandon realizes the whole town is willing to help, finishes off the last of Brandonís self-imposed isolation and brings Family Tree to a conclusion that seems right for the story.

--Irene Williams

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