At 30, J. Shepard is a passionate surfer, enthralled by the poetry of "good waves." He's also a family court lawyer, though not quite so serious about that—until the day Sue Ellen Randall comes into his life. Assigned her case by the Los Angeles County Juvenile Dependency Court, J. tries hard to wriggle out from under. For starters, he doesn't much like Sue Ellen, and he hates what she's accused of—selling her baby to the highest bidder. Now she wants to reclaim the son she gave up, but the adoptive parents are fighting tooth and nail to keep him. Intensifying J.'s reaction is the way the case resonates with his own family situation. When he was 16, his mother, a young widow, gave him up, in effect, without so much as a note pinned to the bedspread. Did she elope with a lover? Was she kidnapped? Murdered? Surfing, sublimating, J. has managed to cope through avoidance, but Sue Ellen makes the pain raw again. One unexpected result of his unsought involvement is that he begins to empathize with her. He begins to feel she's being victimized by the media, by the system itself, and to believe in her essential innocence. Suddenly, after all those years, it becomes imperative that he solve the mystery of his vanished mother. When at length he does, he almost wishes he hadn't.
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