Cowboy Courage

Big Sky Baby by Judy Duarte
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1563, $4.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-24563-7
Two friends see each other for the first time in five years and experience immediate chemistry. A week later, one of them learns that she is pregnant with another man’s child. This opening forms the plot of Big Sky Baby by Judy Duarte. What unfolds is an uninteresting story riddled with repetition, hyperbole, and stereotypes.

Friends since the first grade, Jeff Forsythe and Jilly Davis maintained a long-distance friendship for the past five years through e-mail and phone conversations. The attraction they feel after this separation takes them by surprise. A short time later, Jilly learns she is pregnant. The father is Cain Kincaid, a man Jilly had dated for several months before breaking up with him because of his infidelity. Jilly resolves to raise the baby by herself, but Jeff convinces her that she should tell Cain about the baby. When she does, Cain reacts with disbelief and insensitivity. Before they can talk again, Cain (a firefighter) is killed. Jeff is also injured in the incident; he stays with Jilly while he recovers.

Big Sky Baby suffers from excessive repetition and overstatement. Jeff’s thoughts about Jilly, for instance, seem stuck in his appreciation for the red highlights in her hair and her “chipped-tooth smile.” I’m all for detailed description, but I soon tired of this particular detail. Every mention of that smile reinforced the fact that Jeff’s attraction was largely superficial. When they make love for the first time, it’s because Jeff can’t resist . . . you guessed it . . . that chipped-tooth smile. Jilly seems equally affected by Jeff; the first time she sees him again, she describes him as “a tall, dark-haired god of epic proportions.” No exaggeration there.

Stereotypical characters compound the problem. Jeff is single, a pilot who loves flying and won’t let a family clip his wings (a metaphor used often in this book). He returns to Rumor, Montana, for a short visit, but he’s not going to stay and be a family man. Despite this limitation, Jeff is all things wonderful in Jilly’s eyes. He’s been her best friend for years; he’s the one she turns to when “she’d screwed something up in her life and needed him to bail her out.” Even Jeff’s “flightiness” isn’t so bad, she reasons. After all, he doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. In high school, he was kind enough to let girls know where they stood even when he asked them out: “I’m dating two or three girls right now. I’d like to date you too.” Yeah, that’s definitely appealing.

Cain, of course, is Jeff’s opposite: a shallow womanizer who hides his infidelity. He conveniently dies in the third chapter, leaving Jilly and Jeff to develop their relationship minus one complication.

Unfortunately, Jilly’s relationship with Cain (which occurs before the action of the book) casts her in a negative light from the start. Her affair with so obvious a jerk makes her seem silly and foolish. She acts little better in her relationship with Jeff. She has fallen in love but accepts the role of martyr. She knows that “Jeff had been born to fly, to soar. To live unfettered and free.” This serves as the book’s main conflict. When you remember that she’s describing a person and not a bird or a caged animal, you’ll understand why I rolled my eyes.

There’s no shortage of exaggerated situations. Although Jeff’s accident seems pretty severe: “An updraft jerked the helicopter, slamming him against a rock on the mountainside,” he stays in the hospital for less than one day. Later, he decides to purchase some things for the baby, and comes home with enough toys to fill seven shopping carts. And that’s just for the “smaller purchases.”

If you blink, you might miss a subplot about science teacher Guy Cantrell, who creates a formula that makes him invisible. This plot emerges for a few pages, then disappears. Perhaps it’s part of a longer plot running throughout the Montana Mavericks series (of which this is one), but if that’s the case, author Duarte doesn’t provide enough back story to make it clear.

The only thing left to say about Big Sky Baby is that it was a big disappointment.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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