Hannah Gavener is 14 when her emotionally abusive father turns her, her sister and their mother out of their home.
The family moves on, but Hannah's tumultuous relationship with her father looms large throughout her life, shaping her outlook on the world and the way she thinks about and interacts with men.
Hannah is the protagonist in Curtis Sittenfeld's second novel, "The Man of My Dreams," a coming-of-age story that explores dating, sex and marriage with an honesty that's as tender as it is raw.
Although Hannah's quest for the ideal boyfriend has its quirks, it does include several familiar scenarios: tongue-tied encounters with older boys, drunken hookups at college parties, overzealous suitors, awkward flirtation in the workplace, and the nagging, ubiquitous presence of seemingly flawless couples.
Sittenfeld's accuracy in drawing these scenes seems to be a trademark skill, one she has further honed since her well-received debut novel, "Prep" (2005).
While much of Hannah's bitterness stems from her relationship with her father, he is not always at the forefront. Instead, he hovers in the background, and his influence manifests itself in more subtle ways.
Perhaps because of her early experience with her father, Hannah has several hard edges and is a critical observer of the relationships of others. For example, when her sister announces her engagement, Hannah remarks, "I guess I just don't see him as very special."
But when it comes to her own relationships, Hannah is far less discerning. She values the idea of having a boyfriend more than she values herself, as seen in her open relationship with a co-worker whom she allows to repeatedly cheat on her.
However, Hannah's central relationship is with Henry, whom she describes as "exactly the image of what you think a boyfriend should be when you are nine or ten years old - what you think your own boyfriend will be, your birthright." And Henry proves perfect in every way - except he has a girlfriend.
Hannah and Henry's friendship is muddled with camaraderie, witty banter and sexual tension. But those aspects are overshadowed by Hannah's unrequited adoration. She moves halfway across the country, convinced she can make Henry fall in love with her. She's sure that if he did, everything else would fall into place.
In the end, Hannah is able to see her relationship with her father in a new light, but she never truly resolves things. Nor does she flit away into tidy, romantic bliss, a realism that readers will appreciate. Yet the book's conclusion seems abrupt and somewhat disappointing.
Overall, though, this is a wonderfully engaging story, one that will strike a chord with any young woman who has ever hopefully cast her net in search of love.