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Sunday, July 7, 2013

all we know of LOVE, written by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2008. $8.00 ages 14 and up

"She is smaller than I remember, and her hair is cut short and blunt. For a moment I remember her wearing an elastic headband to keep her long hair off her face while she cooked dinner or did the dishes or gave me a bath. But I don't remember the streaks of gray. Her eyes are taking me in, and they seem to redden with an immense pressure behind them. But she doesn't cry this time."

If you want characters to love, and love stories that don't always have a happy ending, this book will appeal to you. It is Natalie's story; but it also encapsulates the stories of the people she meets on an impromptu trip to see her long lost mother.

Her mother left without a word four years ago. Natalie and her father have been doing their best to cope with her absence. As the story unfolds, the author gives us some glimpses back at those events that have defined Natalie's life. She has become adept at taking personal responsibility for the way things have gone. She thinks that her question about chocolate chip cookies was what really drove her mother to leave them. Her infatuation with the older and self-absorbed Adam leads to monthly pregnancy checks and the inability to find any real security in the relationship because she is sure she has done something that does not please him. An unrelenting check for messages on her cell phone should convince her that Adam has no loyalty to their relationship.

She is looking for her mother to help her find answers to her questions about love. On the 24 hour bus ride taking her from her home in New York to the Florida address she found on a package from her mother she meets many people who give guidance and advice. She meets them in diners, in bus stations and even on the seat next to her during the trip. Each meeting is a lovely look at the goodness of those we meet along the way, and provide insight into relationships. Quite enlightening and uplifting are the people we meet along life's path!

The chapters begin with a verse about love:

"Love me when I least deserve it,
because that's when I really need it.
                         - Swedish proverb"

In this chapter she meets a young girl, Claire:

"I can tell this girl is not going to ask me where I'm
going, or why, or to see whom. First, because she's too
young to pretend to care, but also because she doesn't
want me to reciprocate. She won't ask, because she
doesn't want to have to tell."

Claire's poignant story is told, separate and apart from the contact between the two girls. This structure lets the other person think back on their own past, and each of the stories is concerned with love. Natalie's journey is at the heart of the book, and that never wavers. The writing is exemplary, and will certainly speak to a teenage audience. There are humorous bits, as well as heartbreaking pieces. Each contributes to the tone and appeal. It leads Natalie to make some important choices about her future, allowing her to change her life forever.

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