When Size Matters by Carly Laine
(Harlequin Flipside # 19, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-44193-2
Sky Dylan Stone tells it like it is. If only to herself. After all, what’s a girl to do When Size Matters … to everyone else?

Surrounded by friends who believe that bigger is always better (especially when it comes to engagement rings), Dylan finds herself walking down the aisle – as a bridesmaid – for the fourth time in nine months. (That’s not counting the seven other weddings she had to attend, nor her upcoming maid of honor duties.) Despite what everyone seems to believe, she does not, she insists vehemently, have a case of “soul-devouring, stomach-cramping Diamond Envy.” She is, however, looking for someone she can count on.

It’s refreshing to see a heroine who’s realistic, in size and attitude. But, note to author Carly Laine: Too much inner monologue = a big headache for your characters … and your readers. Laine, much like the star of her Harlequin debut novel, just tries too hard. Instead of relying on her fresh voice, she lapses into gimmicky concepts and crams too many themes and ideas into 217 pages.

For example, Dylan has a habit of thinking and speaking in mathematical equations. “Guilt = incredible motivator.” “Naked + begging = new low.” “Men = problems.” She’s a computer programmer, so her formulaic phrasing is understandable, but quickly becomes repetitive. And then there’s the relationship flow chart she creates on the diner tabletop – using “the water ring from my glass as ink” – while on a date with Brad. Cringe-worthy, especially when he doesn’t quite follow.

Granted, in using the first person-voice, Laine guarantees readers open access to the innermost thoughts of her main character – the good, the bad and the ugly. Dylan is, in a word, unique. Take her theory on rescues:
I don’t think we were brainwashed by the perfect Hollywood story, though. I think we inherited the want from the cave ladies, as with our good eye for color and great gathering skills. I figure the only women who survived long enough to produce offspring were the ones who got rescued on a regular basis, it being tricky to run from a saber-tooth while pregnant. We’ve got a genetically patterned appreciation of the whole rescue business.

She’s quirky and intelligent. Despite her flaws (or perhaps because of them), we like her. The problem is that, while we’re getting to know Dylan inside and out, our hero is left under-developed. They meet at – where else? – a wedding, another over-the-top Dallas affair, and seem to hit it off, but we can’t be sure. Brad, while intriguing, becomes little more than a cardboard cutout who stands beside her in a few vital scenes. The conflict that keeps them apart is obscured as we try to unravel Dylan’s complicated life and family. (She learned how to program in BASIC from her hippie mother, who moved frequently and re-married almost as often. She doesn’t get along with her latest step-father, but adores her two half-siblings – only one of whom is biologically his – and visits whenever she can. Her grandmother is apt to answer the door naked but always seems to know when Dylan is troubled, even from a distance. Despite her large – and natural – chest, she’s not the cheerleader most men expect, but rather quite nerdy, and, much to her chagrin, still a virgin.)

Laine, through Dylan, offers us bits and pieces of information, in a very stream-of-consciousness fashion. She rambles in long, drawn-out paragraphs, and readers are left feeling a little overwhelmed by the almost constant inner monologue. She’s creative and original, but first-person stories usually need a much more delicate touch.

When Size Matters showcases Laine’s potential. However, what seems to have eluded her in writing this book is the lesson that Dylan finally learns: the importance of simplicity and being true to yourself.

--Melissa Amy

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