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Tides of the Heart

By Jean Stone
Random House, 2011

I couldn’t resist a story set partly in Martha’s Vineyard. That beautiful Island off the coast of Massachusetts has a special lure.

This novel is about Jess Randall’s search for the daughter she was forced to give up when she gave birth at fifteen, in 1968. The story is set thirty years later. The book was first published in 1998, and the 2011 edition demonstrates the book’s timeless theme. While there are many book sabout the children taken from their mothers in the time before legalized abortion and before unwed motherhood became more socially acceptable, this book is different. It involves three children born at the same time to young women who were sent to wait out their pregnancies under the care of an apparently kind woman named Miss Taylor.

Miss Taylor, however, was not as well-intentioned as she seemed. Nevertheless, she is an
intriguing character because she offered a safe, non-judgmental shelter for the girls, and the
portrayal of the unwed mothers’ home is gentle and convincing.

Jean Stone, a prolific romance writer, writes a densely plotted story with great characterization. The now grown-up adopted babies have turned out well. Yet their mothers’ stories are full of heart-ache because they never forgot their first children, never stopped wondering what happened to them.

The life stories of the two main protagonists, Jess and Ginny, who became friends as pregnant
teenagers, are very different from one another. Ms. Stone does a great job of creating larger than life characters, especially Ginny. She also weaves in believable and interesting relationships between parents and grown children, showing in the adoptive children a tremendous desire to please their parents. In contrast, a young adult who is secure in the knowledge of her genealogy because her parents were married, even if now divorced, is shown to openly express her occasionally petulant anger.

In the sometimes contested ground between romance and women’s fiction, I am not quite sure where this falls. I think I’m going to call it a belated coming-of- age story. Jess, the lead character, had her childhood torn from her when she became a mother at fifteen, only to suffer the traumatic loss of the baby. She suffered for the next thirty years in a state of limbo. Perhaps predictably, her marriage was unhappy. The story of her journey to find her first daughter and to accept what happened heals her, and will enable her, the reader feels, to launch the second half of her life with vigor and happiness.

If the plot of the book is intricate and at times far-fetched, Jess and Ginny’s story is a very common one for women in my age group. Maintaining an unwanted pregnancy and letting the resulting child achieve a happy life through adoption into a stable home is clearly the preferred option for this author. Yet this story unflinchingly shows the emotional damage done to the birth mother.

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