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Bantam's latest offering in its New Fiction series is a study of teen-age misery and a trite little homily about the need for self-acceptance. Narrator Rachel Harris is the ugly duckling child of beautiful parents; father James, a Robert Redford look-alike, is a math teacher at an exclusive private school in Manhattan where Rachel, as a faculty kid, gets free tuition, and the torment of having beautiful, wealthy classmates such as Olivia and Edwin Butler (of whom more later). Just as Rachel turns 14, her mother Elizabeth runs off to Spain with the building super, a Mexican called George Vasquez; four months later, James, with Rachel in tow, flies to Madrid to hunt them down. Not surprisingly, he fails, for James is now in a permanent vodka haze, but Rachel spots George's name on a poster (he is showing his paintings). The ex-super is radiantly happy (""your mother's a miracle"") and so is the seven-months-pregnant Elizabeth, whom Rachel later observes through a coffee-shop window. Implausibly exercising iron self-control, the teen-ager lets her mother walk away and keeps her discovery a secret from James--and even from her friends once she's back in Manhattan--though she's now more weepy and miserable than ever. As James distracts himself by inviting George's abandoned brood to share their apartment, Rachel goes shopping for an alternative family--and selects the Butlers. After several humiliations, Rachel gets to peek behind their glittering facade and learns (aha!) that the Butler family is as imperfect as her own. We leave Rachel and James (he's now straightened out by A.A.) in the process of becoming ""better versions"" of themselves. A first novel that's not quite as bad as it sounds. Though Rachel's voice is all wrong, the Madrid section moves along briskly, and there are funny lines scattered throughout (but this is no comedy).

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Bantam