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Girl in the Mirror

Second Star to the Right
by Mary Alice Kruesi
(Avon, $5.99, G) ISBN 0-380-79887-5
Second Star to the Right is a whimsical, highly original romance that artfully merges a modern love story with some enchanting fantasy elements guaranteed to bring out the child in each reader. As the title implies, Second Star to the Right takes its heart from James Barrie's timeless tale of Peter Pan (or Peter and Wendy for traditionalists), skillfully weaving such beloved characters as Wendy and the Lost Boys into a narrative that is as heartfelt as it is charming. High marks to author Mary Alice Kruesi for hitting on such a memorable formula and giving romance readers a chance to revisit Neverland and recapture some of the magic of childhood.

Faye O'Neill arrives in London with her young children Tom and Maddie, daunted at the prospect of beginning an entirely new life in a foreign city. Having recently divorced her abusive husband, and paranoid that he will once again try to kidnap the children, Faye is continually on guard. Still she must begin again, and her former boss has offered her the chance formulate a winning ad campaign for an English tea company trying to break into the American market. Terrified, yet determined, Faye and the kids move into a flat in a three-story townhouse also occupied by an elderly woman and a visiting American scientist.

The old lady's name is Wendy.

Faye is initially cautious about exposing her children to a woman who claims to know Peter Pan and who is known throughout the neighborhood as "Crazy Wendy". But the kids have other ideas. Overcoming their initial fear, they befriend the old girl and Jack Graham, the other tenant. Jack takes an immediate liking to the two shy, almost scared little kids, going out of his way to make them feel comfortable and encourage their interest in Wendy and her tales of Peter and his magical world. Jack's natural charm eventually warms up the reluctant Faye who is unwilling to trust her instincts and imagine anything serious with the handsome man downstairs. But Faye needs a friend, and Jack admirably fits the bill.

The children blossom under the wings of both Wendy and Jack. Wendy regales them with tales of Peter's adventures, but brings her own personal observations to the tales as well, because according to Wendy, she is THE Wendy. To Maddie and Tom, there is no doubt that the strange tiny balls of light that fly around the house are faeries, and that the tinkling bell sounds they occasionally hear belong to one famous faerie in particular. Jack and Faye experience the same sights and sounds but adult reality keeps the fantasy at bay.

Still, the warmth within the London townhouse works its magic on all the inhabitants. Faye grapples with reentering the job market and having to prove herself to a bloodthirsty band of advertising execs. But with Jack's steady encouragement, she begins to pull away from the fear that has held her prisoner for so long. Jack, too, comes to relish the time he spends with his surrogate family, precious moments to a man who has repressed the first six years of his life and sworn never to be tied down. Jack's mysterious past is just one more piece of the fantastic puzzle that is slowly unraveled as the chapters fly by.

And fly by they do. Second Star to the Right holds the imagination as it does the heart, slowly bringing all the fantasy elements into focus as the love story grows stronger. If the story occasionally slips and becomes a little too saccharine, it's a small price to pay. The joys, fears and, somewhat less often, the motivations of the characters are very true to life not an easy thing to achieve in a story where Peter Pan plays such a pivotal role.

With nary a glimpse of skin, the love story sometimes takes a backseat to the more fantastic elements, but never gets lost in the process. Readers looking for hot and steamy sex will find this "G" rated tale lacking. But others should be more than satisfied with the gentle romance built on friendship.

Second Star to the Right is a charmer a beguiling tale with a story as original as the Pan himself.

-- Ann McGuire

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