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A Private Affair

Charade by Donna Hill
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-7860-0454-9
Things began to look up for Tyler Ellington when she received a one-year scholarship to New York University's Film School. Her childhood dream of becoming a screenwriter was within reach. Things became a bit more interesting when two men – one in New York and one in Georgia – sought her attention. Will her screenplay be produced? Which man will she choose?

This is a very uncomplicated synopsis of a very complex story. I've always believed that Donna Hill novels should come with labels that read: "WARNING: Characters and situations in this novel are much closer than they seem." Charade is classic Donna Hill. Expect the unexpected.

Charade, Hill's ninth novel, explores the long-term impact of the foster care system on children and their families. Charade and other recent novels – Carmen Green's Commitments Tracy Tillis' The Final Act, and Evelyn Coleman's What a Woman's Gotta Do – analyzed how childhood experiences in the foster care system have affected adult heroines' self-esteem, survival instincts, reluctance to trust, spirituality, and their ability to love and be loved.

As Hill writes in her author's note, "There are so many of our children who have, for a variety of reasons, gone through the foster care system. We hear the tragedies, rarely the triumphs, or fully understand the impact the transitional living has on our children"

Charade is a story of triumph. For nearly fourteen years after her mother's tragic death, Tyler was shuttled between foster homes. Her only permanent relationship has been with her grandmother, Nana Tess. When her mother died, Nana Tess was almost seventy and the social workers refused to let her keep Tyler.

Photographer Sterling Grey is Nana Tess' Sea Island neighbor. Tess and Sterling have become very close and he agrees to look in on Tyler's independent, but ailing grandmother while she's in film school. There is a connection between Tyler and Sterling and he is immediately drawn to her. In New York, she meets student film maker Miles Bennett, who is also taken with Tyler. Instead of weighing her dating options, Tyler plows into her work, refusing to let anyone get too close. Permanent relationships haven't been part of her lifestyle. Tyler is almost too cynical for New York.

The main characters are believable and their relationships develop at a realistic pace. Secondary characters add depth and dimension to the story. Tempest Dailey and Braxton Thorne, main characters from Hill's first novel, Rooms of the Heart make an appearance in Charade. Donna Hill has done an excellent job drawing out a touching love story that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. The author readily admits this was often "a painful story to write." "It is a story," she explains, "of coming out from behind the façades and facing who you are . . . something we all must do one day."

Comedian and former talk-show host Arsenio Hall used to do a bit called, "Things that make you go hmmmm." Donna Hill's thought-provoking novels based on social reality definitely belong in that category.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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