Sunday, August 10, 2008

46. Chasing Windmills

by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I enjoyed this book, read for an online book discussion, more than I thought I would. It’s the story of two young people: home-schooled, isolated, 17-year-old Sebastian, whose controlling father has told him his mother is dead, and 22-year-old Maria, who lives with her abusive boyfriend and has two children by him. Maria has lost her job, but goes out every night and rides the subway during the time she’s supposed to be at work, because she is afraid to tell her boyfriend. Sebastian rides the subway instead of sleeping, in an act of rebellion against his (sleeping-pill-aided) father. The two meet on one such subway ride.

I thought some of the supporting characters were the most interesting, particularly the women. Sebastian’s neighbor and (unknown to his father) friend Delilah is a bit of an enigma - it's clear she is the mother figure Sebastian needs, but we really don't learn much about her. It was convenient (maybe a little too much so) that she was planning to move back to California about the same time Sebastian was heading there.

Maria’s older sister Stella is a strong woman who was able to escape the pattern of abuse in their childhood home. Sebastian and Maria needed Delilah and Stella respectively to help them find their way out of their abusive relationships, someone to mirror back a different reality than the ones they lived in.

Celia, Sebastian’s mother (no, she is not dead) is fascinating and by far my favorite character in the book. Having been divorced in the past from a controlling, emotionally-abusive man who brainwashed our offspring, I could VERY much understand what she did and why. I hope she and Sebastian will be able to forge a good relationship. I would have liked to hear how Sebastian's father would have explained why he did what he did - but I think I already know.

There are many references in this book to “West Side Story.” Maria is named for one of the main characters, names her daughter for Natalie Wood (who played Maria in the movie), and both take place (at least part of the time for “Chasing Windmills”) in New York City. "West Side Story" is far more similar to "Romeo and Juliet," on which it's based - a boy and a girl from warring families/factions fall in love. I think Maria's infatuation with the movie and insistence on calling Sebastian "Tony" just further emphasized her immaturity, especially about real love.

Some people don’t think this book has a happy ending, but given Maria’s and Sebastian’s pasts and present situations, I think what happens is for the best. Suffice to say, the ending is different from both “West Side Story” and “Romeo and Juliet.” This was an interesting book and while I would not necessarily recommend it, I didn’t find it terrible either.

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