Monday, December 1, 2008

Chasing Windmills

by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Doubleday Books
Review by Melissa

There are many books exploring the effect that one life has on others, for good or for ill. There are books about people with broken lives trying to make the best of a bad situation. This book takes those two ideas and combines them, asking the question: will two broken halves make a whole?

Sebastian has spent the last 10 years thinking his mother is dead, and having his every move controlled by his overbearing father. He is allowed outside for one run a day, and on one of those runs, he makes a friend, Delilah. It is through her that Sebastian begins to question his father's mandates. He ends up on the subway, in the middle of the night, riding for the sheer joy of the freedom.

Maria has spent the last 7 years living with her boyfriend, Carl, who beats her whenever she looks like she's thinking or doing even the remotest thing out of "line". When Maria loses her job, she can't bear to tell Carl that she's not working anymore, so she takes to writing the subway during her graveyard shift. It's there that she meets Sebastian, who has taken to escaping his confining existence in the middle of the night to ride the subways.

Neither Sebastian nor Maria has much hope about their lives; they are both consigned to their fate. That is, until they meet. It's a scene from the movies: they meet, there's a spark, they fall in love, their lives are changed. It's simultaneously incredibly powerful and incredibly naive. But, it changes their lives irrevocably; it is the strength from their meeting that gives them the confidence, and power, to leave their abusers behind.

It's actually relatively easy for Sebastian and Maria to leave -- there's a few missteps and miscommunications, but both Sebastian's father and Maria's boyfriend were relatively easy obstacles to overcome. However, once they get to their utopia -- the Mojave Desert and the windmills of the title -- things are not as perfect as it all seemed late at night on the subway. The end unravels slightly -- as a reader, you want the perfectly happily ever after, and yet we are given something in between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: no one dies, but no one is perfectly happy, either. What they are, though, is free.

In the end, Hyde decides that two broken halves do not make a whole. But they do make for a mostly compelling story.

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