Annie's Song by Catherine Anderson
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13, Hist) ISBN 0-380-77961-7
****
Every once in awhile a book comes along that pushes all the right buttons, offering a compelling story, memorable characters, well-written scenes and a bittersweet conflict that goes right to the reader's emotional core. Annie's Song, written by Catherine Anderson, is that kind of book.

It tells the story of Annie Trimble, a woman who everyone believes is mentally disabled as the result of a childhood illness. When Alex Montgomery's worthless younger brother rapes Annie, Alex marries her out of guilt for the child she is carrying, never dreaming that he can ever fall in love with her. Slowly, he discovers that all is not as it seems and that the world has misjudged lovely Annie.

This is a tender story -- there are no duels, revenge motifs or treasure maps. The only hidden treasure in this story is Annie Trimble -- as Alex Montgomery comes to find out. The author has an excellent sense of timing and pacing and she creates a love story that is both compelling and very beautiful.

The best part about this book is that the author isn't afraid to allow her characters their imperfections. Alex is just as prejudiced as everyone else in the town about Annie's "affliction." Yet, he redeems himself in the end. Annie's parents are very unsympathetic characters, but the reader eventually comes to understand how fear and ignorance can lead to injustice.

The book is not without fault. There are a couple of cliché characters that we could have done without. In this case, we are subjected to the folk wisdom of the Montgomery family housekeeper. It's also unclear what, other than sheer wickedness, motivates Alex's brother to do so many patently evil deeds.

And in the final chapters, the book sputters a little bit, losing some of its momentum with an entirely uncalled-for subplot and a rather anticlimactic ending.

Still, Annie's Song kept me reading into the wee hours. Kudos to Catherine Anderson for crafting one of the year's best.

--Leslie McClain


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