Family Album by Patricia Kay
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-18632-6
****
Most romances follow the classic formula: boy meets girl, love ensues. Family Album follows a less common formula: long-time relationship is threatened, can love survive?

On her eighteenth birthday, Hannah gives birth to a baby boy in Florida. With her aunt her only family support, Hannah knows she cannot give her son a good life. With his well-being her main concern, she gives him up for adoption.

Twenty years later, David Conway has come to Beverly Hills searching for his birth mother. He knows she’s married to Simon Ferris, the head of a large sporting goods store chain and that he has a half-sister. His adoptive parents died when he was still a young child so he spent most of his life in the state foster care system; he begrudges his mother and half-sister the affluent life they lead in contrast to his own. In order to meet his mother, he finagles a job as lifeguard and part-time waiter at their club.

The first night he waits on the Ferrises’ table where Simon and Hannah are celebrating her birthday. Hannah notices their waiter’s resemblance to Mark, her son’s father, but thinks it’s because she’s sensitive on this particular day. Hannah has hidden the truth from Simon and from their fourteen-year-old daughter, Jenny. Neither knows she had a baby before meeting Simon. Her husband believes her low spirits on her birthday reflect the passage of another year, but it’s the annual reminder of the baby she called Nicholas that saddens her. Following his birth, she attended art school and is now an accomplished artist.

Simon was adopted at a young age when his birth mother had no interest in having a child. A private adoption gave him a loving, well-to-do family, but he’s maintained a bitter attitude towards mothers who give up their children. Simon’s widowed, adoptive mother has never liked Hannah. She has suspected that Hannah has secrets she hasn’t revealed. Among other questions, she wonders why Hannah’s parents, a minister and his wife living in Nebraska, have never visited her.

Jenny and a school friend are impressed with the club’s hunky new lifeguard. Her mother tells her that a twenty-year-old is too old for her, but Jenny has other ideas and wants David’s attention. When Jenny is injured in a diving accident at the pool, David will assume a larger role in their family - which will ultimately lead to revelations and a family crisis.

What makes Family Album appealing is that with only a single exception these are nice people. No back-stabbing, no vengeance-seeking, no out-for-number-one. These are people you’d like to call friends. In fact, they may be a little unrealistically nice - they seem mostly devoid of any vices. It’s hard to find fault with any of the actions of the major characters - there’s really no villain in this group.

The sole exception is Hannah’s narrow-minded, conservative minister father. His harsh and unforgiving attitude is a direct cause of Hannah’s concealing her pregnancy and a contributing factor in giving up her baby for adoption. Hannah’s sisters have found their own coping mechanisms for dealing with their father - one has thrown off all restraints and rebelled against her restrictive upbringing, the other has taken the path of least resistance and accepted the constrained life her father preaches. Hannah has found a way that walks a middle path of compromise while still allowing her to lead her own life. What’s most impressive about her is how she’s survived her emotionally abusive childhood, as well as an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and become a loving, productive individual.

A strength of Family Album is its solid character motivation. The reactions of the various characters to the discovery that Hannah is David’s mother are well-established and believable. Jenny’s reaction is perhaps a little overboard, but she does come across as a typical teenager in the angsty throes of first puppy love. In an era of so many mow-em-down, alpha heroes, Simon is a welcome change. He’s a loving father, parent, and son, responsible and supportive. Romances could use a few more heroes like Simon.

This is a story that views love as a journey not a destination. Readers looking for something out of the ordinary in a romance will want to check out Family Album.

--Lesley Dunlap


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