With Family in Mind
by Sharon De Vita
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1450, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24450-9
**
“In Mind” is a particularly appropriate title for this book, because if you read it that’s where you’ll spend the vast majority of your time. The hero and heroine are so totally preoccupied with their own angst-ridden thoughts it’s amazing they don’t trip over the furniture.

The story opens as Rebecca St. John returns to Saddle Falls after learning that her mother, whom she has not seen in almost 20 years, is dead. Rebecca has returned to the town where Margaret abandoned her, looking for answers.

When Rebecca was just seven, her immature young single mother was hired as a nanny by the Ryan family to care for their four young sons, Jake, Jared, Josh and Jesse. The job on the Ryan ranch (the boys’ grandfather, Tommy, is the “most prominent rancher in the state”) came with a carriage house to live in and, after moving 16 times in seven years, little Rebecca was thrilled for some stability.

Unfortunately, one night little Jesse vanished when in the care of Rebecca’s mother. The police took Margaret away for questioning and Social Services took charge of Rebecca. Margaret was released several hours later for lack of evidence, but she didn’t bother to reclaim her daughter. Rebecca spent the rest of her life in orphanages, wondering why her mother walked away from her.

Now an award-winning investigative reporter, Rebecca (who changed her name) has persuaded the editor of the local newspaper to hire her to write a profile on the Ryan family. Without telling anyone who she really is, she intends to use her access to the family to investigate the kidnapping and find out once and for all whether or not her mother played some part in the little boy’s disappearance.

Jake Ryan is appalled that Tommy would allow a reporter into their lives. The media made their lives hell when Jesse was kidnapped. Neither will it surprise anyone to learn that Jake’s heart was broken in later years by a female reporter pretending to love him so she could get inside the family and rake the whole business up again.

In fact, very little about this book will surprise you. A long list of stock characters act with utter predictability from beginning to end. Ponderous interior monologues that range between lengthy and interminable defeat any residual energy. Hardly a conversation takes place that is not interrupted every few statements by a long description of the character’s thoughts, feelings, background and motivations.

With the characters as her spokespeople, the author explains everything in careful and tedious detail with very little in the way of action to show how all these thoughts, feelings and motivations translate into action.

Jake and Rebecca brood earnestly and endlessly over how much they want each other in spite of the fact that it’s impossible. Their irresistible physical attraction is fodder for much tortured moping about how it’s in conflict with professional ethics and trust (her), and privacy and trust (him).

It isn’t just monotonous. It also makes it completely impossible to believe the moments when the characters are supposed to connect. They spend pages and pages swimming alone in the murky water of their own thoughts, suddenly surface to make each other feel passion the likes of which they’ve never known before, then resubmerge leaving nothing behind but a trail of perturbed bubbles.

Rebecca and Jake clearly find the inside of their own heads endlessly fascinating. I wasn’t nearly as interested.

--Judi McKee


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