Hidden Blessings
by Jacquelin Thomas
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN 07860-0523-8
Brandeis Taylor had a carefully crafted plan for her life. She was going to attend law school and have a successful law career, get married and have a family. Along the way, Brandeis met Martin St. Charles and her life was changed forever.

Martin was an intelligent, attentive, churchgoing young man. He was fun to be with. As he gained her trust, the couple began to date regularly. After an evening out, Martin brought Brandeis home. After she refused his advances, he raped her. Ashamed, guilty and afraid, Brandeis decided against pressing charges against him. The incident haunts her days and nights.

Hidden Blessings, author Jacquelin Thomas' ambitious first novel about the impact of acquaintance rape on a victim, her family and friends, is Brandeis' story. "Out of every tragedy comes a hidden blessing," she says, "I guess my hidden blessing is somewhere in my future."

Hidden Blessings begins approximately a year after Martin attacked Brandeis in her apartment. She has since abandoned her plans to go to law school, rarely goes out socially and avoids being alone at her apartment. She has retreated into her two-faceted world of work as a paralegal in a law firm and her mother's home. There is also a physical toll: Brandeis has developed an ulcer.

When successful criminal attorney Jackson Gray moves back to town, her mother hopes he can help her daughter regain her interest in life. Jackson is an old family friend on whom Brandeis had a teenager crush. He is pleased to see the young woman she's become and interested in getting to know her better.

But something is troubling Brandeis and preventing her from pursuing her dreams and spending time with him. He's both hurt and confused by her rejection until he learns the reason for her remoteness. Jackson offers her love, support, patience and time. Brandeis begins rape counseling and makes radical changes in her apartment. She and Jackson start to date. And, with the constant support of her mother and best friend, Brandeis slowly begins to rebuild her life . . . and her approach to it.

Hidden Blessings examines the many sides of the complex issue of date or acquaintance rape. We learn from the author's note that date rape is the most common, yet under reported sexual assault. We learn from the novel that smart people don't necessarily do smart things when emotions are involved and the issue is highly charged and very personal. It is a massive undertaking for a first novel. Particularly when the main characters' own shortcomings conspire against them.

Jackson is a brilliant criminal defense attorney who knows the impact of an accusation of rape on the victim and the accused. However, he doesn't always apply that he knows when the victim is the woman he loves. For her part, Brandeis is painstakingly protective of her self-image and of Jackson. They don't always make the right choices and pay for their mistakes. And, if overcoming this tragedy and their responses to it can't sidetrack Brandeis and Jackson's relationship, they are further put-upon by a jealous co-worker, a conniving ex-girlfriend and a psychopath. All this drama often slows down the story.

However, the strength of the novel comes from Jacquelin Thomas' edict that women don't have to victimized during the aftermath of rape, but can be freed by the choices they make. There is helpful information readers can use to help themselves and others.

The characterization of Brandeis' mother, Mona Taylor, is exceptionally strong. She stands head and shoulders among the others. Mona overcame psychological abuse and betrayal by Brandeis' father to become a strong, feisty independent woman.

Hidden Blessings tackles a complex subject head on. It is an interesting first novel, but it is not for the faint of heart. This is not a light-hearted story, but rather a dark, heady tale about trust and choices. It is a call to action that should not be ignored.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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