The Boy on the Porch by Dee Holmes
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-18815-9
Dee Holmes writes intelligent character studies that explore serious issues and complex interpersonal dynamics. Her work is somber without being maudlin. The Boy on the Porch is a strong effort marred only by a hero with too many rough edges.

On the one year anniversary of her husband Richardís death, Annie Hunter comes home from visiting his grave to find an adolescent boy asleep on her front porch. To her dismay, 13-year old Cullen Gallagher announces he has searched out Annie because he believes she is his biological mother.

Unfortunately, that is impossible. Annie and Richard were never able to have children, and in fact had endured years of frustrating fertility treatments at the time of Richardís untimely death from a heart attack. But Cullen is sure that he has the right family. He overheard his adoptive parents mention Richardís name during an argument. Shortly afterward, his mother died and his father, a college professor who never accepted Cullenís outgoing boyishness, turned his back on him. Cullen eventually ended up at Noah House, a residential center for troubled teenaged boys, where Linc McCoy, the director, encouraged him to find his biological parents.

Annie has a few choice words for Linc McCoy for misleading Cullen and for disrupting her quiet life. But after she meets the darkly handsome director, she is both disturbed and attracted. As she explores the truth behind Cullenís claims, she finds herself wishing that the boy could somehow be her son. But her search uncovers secrets and lies that involve Richard, his sister and his parents.

Astute readers will quickly figure out the truth about Cullenís parentage, but thatís not really the crux of the story. Annieís evolution from self-centered misery to selfless generosity and happiness is the hook for the reader. Through her involvement with Cullen and Linc, she moves beyond her sheltered life. Her new experiences arenít always easy or pretty but she learns to face them honestly.

Honesty should be Linc McCoyís middle name. He calls things as he sees them, and if people donít like what he has to say thatís their problem, not his. He has survived his brotherís death and his fatherís imprisonment, but he has turned his tragedies into a passion to have a positive impact. While he wants to help Noah Houseís troubled residents, he has no illusions about them. Like Annie, I admired his efforts, but his bluntness and occasional crudeness bordered on offensive. Even at the novelís final pages, he canít tell Annie he loves her; the best he can do is admit that he doesnít want to be apart from her.

Annieís in-laws play a major role in the plot, and their diverse reactions to Cullenís claims provide some of the novelís more heartfelt moments. For a boy who has previously engaged in numerous illicit activities, Cullenís behavior seems a little too good to be true, but he is never too sweet or cloying either. He deserved to find a loving, nurturing family.

The Boy on the Porch addresses the serious problem of runaway, throwaway and delinquent teens, but unlike the authorís earlier book, The Caleb Trees, it has no shocking topics such as teenage suicide. If the cold weather leaves you feeling in the mood for something pensive, as opposed to escapist, I recommend Dee Holmesí work.

--Susan Scribner

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