The Charm School

The Drifter

The Horsemaster's Daughter

The Hostage

Husband for Hire

Irish Magic

The Lightkeeper

Miranda

The Mistress

 
The You I Never Knew by Susan Wiggs
(Warner, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60874-6
****
The uninformed believe that romance novels are about sex, but we know the truth. Romance novels are about relationships. Susan Wiggs' first contemporary single title is proof positive of this truism. The You I Never Knew is really about relationships, all kinds of relationships: daughter and estranged father; son and alcoholic mother; mother and teenage son; father and newly discovered son; and of course, young lovers separated and rediscovering each other. None of these relationships is easy, but in good romance fashion, by the end of the book, all are in much better shape than at the beginning.

Michelle Turner hardly knew her absent movie star father, Gavin Slade, until her mother died when Michelle was eighteen. Invited to spend a year at his Montana ranch, the two were just developing a relationship when Gavinís unsympathetic reaction to her unexpected pregnancy led to a further estrangement. Seventeen years later, Michelle is on her way back to Crystal City to donate a kidney to the father she never really knew. Without a new kidney, Gavin will die.

Michelle is bringing along her sixteen year old son, Cody. Until a few months earlier, Cody had been a perfect child. Now, adolescence has hit hard. Her once sweet son has become sullen and withdrawn; he has also pierced his body in several uncomfortable places. Cody is miserable at leaving Seattle and his girl friend. Michelle is hoping that getting him away from bad influences will reestablish their relationship.

The last thing Michelle expects when she arrives in Montana is to discover that Sam McPhee in Crystal City. Sam is Codyís father, but he left town before she could tell him about her pregnancy. A scared eighteen year old, Michelle had not known how to find the man she loved. She has rebuilt her life and is a successful graphic artist. She has a man in her life - an upwardly mobile pharmacist. She doesnít want to have her life turned completely upside down.

It doesnít take Sam long to figure out that he is Codyís father. He is bitter that Michelle never really tried to find him and he wants to begin to play a role in his sonís life. And then there is the fact that neither Michelle nor Sam has ever gotten over their passionate but doomed love.

Theirs had been a love across social barriers. Michelle was the daughter of wealth and privilege; Sam was the son of an alcoholic waitress who worked Gavinís horses. Both had dreams. Michelle, an immensely talented artist, wanted to paint. Sam, a high school drop out, wanted to be a doctor. Fate, with a little help from a worried father, had separated the two. Sam had gone on to become a rodeo champion and returned to Crystal City where he is a respected member of the community. Michelle is surprised to discover just how respected Sam is.

There are obviously lots of relationships in The You I Never Knew and in true romance fashion, they all work out nicely, thank you very much. But Wiggs doesnít make everything pat and simple. The characters have to overcome the mistakes and hurts of the past and confront the realities of the present if they are to have a future. Wiggs handles all of the strands of her story with consummate skill. She knows how to tell a story and how to make her characters come alive. Her use of the kidney donation as the catalyst for her plot is both unusual and compelling.

Yes, what makes The You I Never Knew such an excellent read are the characters and their relationships. Wiggs has made the transition from historical to contemporary romance very well. Oh, and by the way, the love scenes are darn good.

--Jean Mason


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