cover image Holding Me Here

Holding Me Here

Pam Conrad. HarperCollins Publishers, $11.95 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-06-021338-1

Conrad's second novel is set in the suburbs, far from the rural Nebraska of her first story, the much-praised Prairie Songs. Fourteen-year-old Robin Lewis seems to have adjusted to life with her divorced parents, shuttling between her mother's cluttered house and her father's neat apartment. But the arrival of a boarder at Robin's home, Mary Walker, awakens a sadness in her. She starts to pry into Mary's life, and then tries to reunite her with the children and husband she's left behind. That's Robin's way of wishing her own parents would reconcile. But Mary's past (which readers will figure out, even if Robin can't) is that of a battered wife; reconciliation with her family means more abuse. Robin's interference brings disastrous results. A problem here is that Robin, who narrates the story, seems normalthere is no underlying sense that she is troubled. When she snoops it is an ugly act, but the reader never has a clear idea of what motivates Robin. A final chapter, where Mary's husband finds Robin at home alone and wrecks the house, seems tacked on and rings false. So do Mary's reasons for leaving her children with her husband, with his record for violence. But Conrand's writing is strong and clear, and draws one into the story. (12-up)