Homeward Bound
by Marin Thomas
(Harl. American #1079, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-75083-8
****
Homeward Bound is a charming tale of two wary characters who learn to have faith not only in themselves, but in the love they have for each other.

Heather Henderson is the girl from Nowhere; or at least, she's the girl from Nowhere, Texas. Having finally escaped the tiny ranching community where she's only known as the delinquent daughter of the town drunk, she's finally making a place for herself in the world. With college graduation coming up, she's ready to move on and begin living her life for herself.

But a late night visit from Nowhere's mayor Royce McKinnon changes everything. He delivers the shocking news that Heather's father has died, leaving her a run down feed store back home. In typical Royce fashion, he just assumes Heather will want him to sell off the business so she can get on with her life. Not a bad assumption, but it just so happens to be the latest in Royce's attempts to run her life.

As Heather's self-appointed big brother Royce has always done what he thinks is best for Heather. Whether it's bailing her out of jail, paying her tuition or breaking off their short-lived romance three years earlier, Royce isn't the type of guy to ask Heather's opinion before acting. So, Heather takes a stand: she'll return to Nowhere, rescue the store from bankruptcy and find out why Royce pushed her away all those years ago.

Homeward Bound is a charming tale with witty characters and a well-crafted subplot. At times, though, the book seems a bit clichéd. Heather's family is poor; therefore they live in a trailer. Her dad's a drunk; therefore he burns his home and himself to the ground with a lit cigarette. Royce is the stable force in Heather's life, therefore he's the stable force in the town (mayor). Thomas goes a little over the top when categorizing her characters, there are no shades of gray in this work.

Having said all that, I want to point out that when Thomas writes something well, it's extraordinary. The exchanges between Royce and Heather are entertaining and very realistic. Thomas captures the history between the couple, while building the present. The reader can easily see why the characters loved each other in the past, and still love each other despite having changed over the years. This isn't a tale of people falling in love, per se, but more one of people learning how to express that love.

One of the dangers of setting a novel in a small town is that you have to create a believable setting and colorful characters. People in small towns know their neighbors and have to blend into the community. Nothing is more off-putting than reading a romance novel in which the hero and heroine are the only real characters. People have friends, co-workers and antagonists and Thomas seems to get that. She doesn't just tell us that Royce is mayor, she shows us. Royce interacts with the town council; he listens to his constituency and deals with the problems that arise. We see Heather struggle to gain the town's approval and make them see her as more than just a rebellious teenager. This "show rather than tell" aspect draws the reader into the story and gives them a vested interest in the outcome.

Overall, I enjoyed this simple little romance. The story isn't groundbreaking; Thomas doesn't really take chances with the plot. The reader won't find any huge surprises in Homeward Bound, but you will find a story that both charms and entertains.

--Amanda Waters


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