Archive for Sunday, March 21, 2004

Girls in Trouble’ has some trouble spots

March 21, 2004

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Open adoption, where birth mothers and adoptive parents try to keep the mystery out of the giving-up-baby process, is the focus of Caroline Leavitt's latest novel, "Girls in Trouble" (St. Martin's Press, $24.95).

Sara Rothman is an only child and honor student in Boston in the 1980s. She's lonely and a little spoiled by her overprotective parents. Then she meets Danny, a loner bad-boy type who lights a spark in her 16-year-old heart.

Sara and Danny share their separate troubles -- his involve a dysfunctional family and being unable to fit in, and hers revolve around her parents and their high expectations.

Danny and Sara aren't together long -- just long enough to fall in love and get Sara pregnant.

An adoption agency puts Sara and her parents in touch with a well-educated, well-meaning couple who are thrilled to become parents to Sara's baby. They also fall for Sara, inviting her over and offering her all the reassurance and calm that her parents don't.

After the baby is born, Sara keeps hanging around the adoptive parents' home and starts to cramp their style. When they try to brush her off and put some closure to the open adoption, she balks and digs into a bag of tricks. But she's left with nothing more than a restraining order.

The story then segues clumsily through Sara's years at college, sans baby Ann and Danny, and on to her life in New York working as a copywriter. Through it all, she is unable to make peace with her past.

The adoptive parents, meanwhile, have moved to Florida, where Ann grows up to be an overprotected only child who has trouble making friends. Sound familiar?

When Sara tracks down Ann and her family, there are more tears and heartbreak until the whole mess reaches a resolution of sorts.

Leavitt weaves a taut tale, but her portraits of the families -- both adoptive and birth -- are somewhat sterile and forced. The main character, Sara, is better-formed than the others, and the reader gets some good insights into Ann. But Danny's and Sara's parents always remain sketchy at best.

The overall effect is a heavy subject rendered duller than it ought to be.

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