I'm sure you've all read the sort of book that makes your chest feel tight with unspent breath in light of a character's plight. But this entire novel made me feel like that, tapping into emotions I hadn't used when reading a book for quite some time. And that's only one of the many things that made Chasing Windmills brilliant.
Sebastian's father is deeply disturbed. He has kept his only son fenced in the apartment for years, even going as far as to home school him for protection. But Sebastian has come to an age where he is not to be cowed any longer. He dares to risk the outside world and the friendship of an old woman in the neighborhood, while exploring the Big Apple on the dark subways at night. It's on those very tracks that he meets the sad and beautiful Maria.
Maria has problems of her own (although they exist as a very different sort). She's in her early 20s with two small children, no job, and a boyfriend who has yet to marry her, despite a veeeery long engagement. But when that same boyfriend becomes abusive, she is tested to her limits in order to choose a better life for herself and her children. It takes a horrible injury to bring her to see sense. But even through the pain of her betrayal and ribs she is still mulling over the mysterious and charming boy from the subway. Could he heal her and clear the distorted version of affection she has lived for so long? And if he offers her liberty, all the way across America, will she have the courage to take it?
The protagonists of Catherine Ryan Hyde's novel were beautiful and remarkably layered. I felt the individual pains and challenges of both as strong as their friends and family who, unlike many books, were more than supporting characters in their reactions and depth. Maria's story- a particularly heartbreaking one- brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. Even as someone watching from the outside, it was difficult and yet all too easy to remember the abuses exacted on many every day. Maria was the manifestation of those helpless ones, and held a beacon of hope throughout the story. The constant message of freedom was there and hugely impacted the entire experience.
Another splendid thing about this story (other than Ms. Hyde's positively brilliant writing) was that it was familiar and new at the same time. Like Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story, it was a tale of "star crossed" lovers and the tragedies that pursued them. But presented in such a modern way, the entire story was much easier to follow and just as epic.
I highly recommend this novel with the very rare, very elusive...*Drum roll* 7 out of 7 lightnings! ZIIIIING! SHOOM! CRACK!
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