The Boyfriend's Back

Calling the Shots
by Ellen Hartman
(Harl. Super Rom. #1665, $5.50, PG) ISBN 978-0373-71665-4
Calling the Shots is less a romance and more a story of parents dealing with teenage children. Because of this, the romance did not feel right; the two adults even acted like children at times. There was too much hurt and too much past angst to fully embrace this story as a romance.

Bryan James has a past as a great hockey player who was the toast of his small New York town, until he stupidly hurt his knee one night in an accident unrelated to hockey and all related to his sense of entitlement and charm. When he lost his hockey career, he also lost his wife, who had married him for the glamour. Now, 12 years later, he is trying to raise his teenage daughter Allie while his ex-wife goes off pursuing her dream of the high life by being in the entourage of a rock band. Allie feels like she has been abandoned by her mother. The only relationship she and Bryan have is through her hockey - yes, she is a star hockey player too. But Bryan"s job requires lots of travel and this has forced Allie to settle for playing for her local team rather than a higher-level regional team. She is hurting and Bryan is clueless.

Tim Sampson is a boy in Allie"s class and on her hockey team. He has never played hockey before, but realized when he and his mom moved to Twin Falls, New York that hockey was the way to get accepted and gain friends. Tim has lots of experience with fitting in. He and his mom, Clare, travel all the time for Clare's consulting business. Just when Tim feels settled and starts making friends, they have to move. Clare sees this as adventure and expanding their horizons, but lately, Tim sees it as avoiding commitments and he hates it. They are actually fighting about it more and more. Since Tim has little relationship with his father, who was a short-term affair for Clare, he has no choice but to start showing Clare that he is angry and wants to stay here in Twin Falls.

The story begins when Tim is beaten up by Allie one night after hockey practice. The league decides that Allie must be suspended and maybe barred from the team unless the parents and the kids agree to participate in mediation to settle their differences. Of course, no one is happy about that since Allie is the star who is set to take the team to the championship, but it is the way it is. There is pressure on both Bryan and Clare to conform to this ruling, even though neither wants to. The entire story is about how these two adults figure out how to raise their kids and get through this crisis, even while having to deal with crises of their own. Their attraction to each other is just one small part of things.

Clare is a heroine who I could never really warm up to. She is determined to give Tim the best, yet her perception of the best is totally skewed by her view of life. She grew up with a sister who was terminally ill. Her whole body of family memories is around her parents struggling with getting Gretchen good medical care and trying to make Gretchen's life comfortable. It wasn't until Clare went to college (at Gretchen's insistence) that she started living and making decisions for herself. One of those decisions ended up with Tim. She loves Tim but can't get past her fear of losing someone she loves, and her whole life is based on this fear. She runs a consulting business where she signs short-term contracts, which mean they move every 12 to 18 months. Her contract in Twin Falls is only supposed to last through this one school year.

Bryan, meanwhile, is struggling with his abrupt single fatherhood, his lack of help from his ex-wife, and a career that he hates. He has never come to terms with his career-ending injury. And his daughter has become a bully and someone he almost doesn't recognize - of which he is in denial for a good part of the story.

Calling the Shots is not a bad story if you are looking for a tale that centers on teenage angst and growing pains. I could never get into either Bryan's or Clare's psyche and was much more sympathetic to the kids. I could never believe that the adults had a romance, so I can do nothing but warn you away.

--Shirley Lyons

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