Beautiful Girl
by Shiloh Walker, contemporary (2008)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-873-9

Our heroine Delilah Prescott has come home to Prescott, Tennessee after twelve years... hold it, people, don't make your way to the exit yet. I know you think that you have read a hundred stories that have this very same premise, but Beautiful Girl isn't a rehash of those stories.

Well, not that much of a rehash anyway. For one, the hero has Hodgkin's Disease and is currently in the clear after his latest chemotherapy session. Don't worry, folks, Ms Walker is not bluffing when she has the hero cured of the disease at the start of the story because Hodgkin's lymphoma is curable. Of course, it can also come back a few years later, but let's all hold hands, sing happy songs, and pretend that the hero falls under the 80% or so folks in the USA who manage to recover from a Stage III Hodgkin's Disease five years after treatment.

Due to an old friend that blabbed about her current address, Del is invited to her high school ten-year reunion party so here she is. She can't stand the mother she left behind in this small town but she misses her best friend who pestered her to come. And besides, she also misses seeing her old high school beau Blake Mitchell, not that she wants to admit that to anyone, so she's here and hoping to get back out once the whole thing is over without having to bump into her mother. Of course, things don't always go as planned and Blake certainly isn't someone Del can easily walk away from once she meets up with him again.

Blake is a man who has partied hard and crashed even harder. He is now picking up the pieces of his life while hoping that it's not too late to have a decent life, start a family, and all. Meanwhile, Del has a good reason to leave Prescott: her stepfather raped her and her mother willingly went along with it so that Louisa didn't have to endure her husband's "affection". Understandably, Del would rather burn in hell than to give her mother a big hug. Therefore, we have two damaged people who have changed so much that they will have to work at reconnecting again.

I have mixed feelings about Beautiful Girl. On one hand, the two characters are fabulously damaged. Okay, that sounds really cruel, I know, but Ms Walker has created two damaged characters that tug so well at my heartstrings that I am hooked on their story. I want to see them triumph over the hard knocks that life has dealt them because I like these two. They are adorable sweethearts who clearly are right for each other.

But the story becomes increasingly over the top and melodramatic, complete with a villain that will make Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest look like Mother of the Year, that I find it increasingly harder to take Beautiful Girl seriously.

Beautiful Girl is at times a powerfully cathartic read due to the heartbreakingly damaged characters falling in love and healing as a result. The melodrama can get way too over the top for me, but still, this is one good read where I am concerned.

Rating: 86

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