To Protect his Own
by Brenda Mott
(Harl. Super. #1286, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71286-3
***
Member of a large Colorado family with horses practically in their blood, Caitlin Kramer is all set to be an Olympic jumper when a collision with a drunk driver destroys her hopes and dreams. Six months after the accident, she has not yet completely recovered. Even with a cane, she cannot walk too long before her back and legs begin to hurt. Nor is she fully able to drive because the head injury she sustained impaired her sense of balance and her vision. Her body is scarred, leaving her with serious doubts about finding a man who will love her.

Worst of all, she has no idea what to do with her life. Fortunately, she has not completely lost her underlying independent streak and is determined to move into her own house, where her new neighbors gradually force her to realize she is not the only one with problems.

Single father Alex Hunter has moved from Denver to a small Colorado mountain town after his daughter Haillie witnessed her cousin's random murder at a gang shooting. A devoted if somewhat overprotective father, he wants to shield her from any further pain and to bring her out of her shell. Little does he know that she has become bulimic in her attempt to cope with grief. Clearly, there is enough in this set-up to keep these three wounded characters apart, but horses, kindness and strong mutual attraction do their share to bring them together.

Hallie has been a fan of Caitlin's long before she moved next door to her. So she is more than delighted when the former Olympic hopeful not only offers her use of her horse but also, after some initial reluctance, agrees to teach her to ride. Partly out of gratitude, partly because of the attraction he feels, Alex encourages Caitlin to overcome her insecurities. He urges her to take up riding and driving again and, more importantly, to think of life after the accident.

The first half of To Protect His Own concentrates primarily on Caitlin's attempt to overcome the rough deal fate has dealt her. After several mishaps and important realizations, she is ready for something else. In the second half of the book, she returns the favor by trying to get Alex to acknowledge that his daughter has an eating disorder. This effort almost jeopardizes their growing relationship.

The discussion of bulimia offers both some of the worst and best aspects of To Protect His Own. Caitlin's sudden realization of the problem makes her sound more like a writer for “Oprah Magazine” and less like the concerned but perplexed adult she is. Similarly, Hallie is far too conscious of why she goes through a binge-and-purge cycle for a twelve-year-old. Whereas therapists and self-help manuals are probably right to see bulimia as a mechanism (however noxious) through which some girls try to assert control over their bodies and their lives, I doubt a preteen would be so articulate and aware about this need.

On the other hand, Alex's resistance to accepting his daughter's disorder is both a very convincing part of his characterization and an effective device in keeping the lovers apart. Unable to recognize the symptoms and unwilling to acknowledge a deep-seated problem, he turns against Caitlin instead of listening to her well-intentioned advice.

Bulimia aside, the conflicts Alex, Caitlin and Hallie face are compelling enough to make To Protect His Own an acceptable read, and even an enjoyable one for those readers who have a soft heart for and an interest in horses and their care.

--Mary Benn


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