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Monday, August 25, 2008

Chasing Windmills: A Simply Complex Love Story

(Image from Amazon)

Sebastian Mundt, hero of Catherine Ryan Hyde's Chasing Windmills, isn't your average 17-year-old. He's never hung out with friends, never watched a movie and never so much as tasted a bite of takeout. Thanks to his paranoid, germaphobic (I think mysophobic is the proper term) father, Sebastian has led a decidedly sheltered life. When a doctor finally convinces the elder Mundt that his son must breathe fresh air at least occasionally, Sebastian is allowed outside for a daily run. This tiny bit of freedom goes to his head - not only does he make his first friend (his elderly neighbor, Delilah), but he also finds the courage to sneak out of his apartment at night. Too fearful to head to the nearest nightclub, Sebastian spends his precious hours of freedom riding the deserted subway.

One night, another passenger boards the train - pretty Maria, who hides her secrets behind wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves. Although Sebastian has never seen her before, he feels an electric spark between them. After a few furtive glances, he realizes "we weren't afraid of each other anymore. We knew we didn't have to be. I mean, except to the extent that we were afraid of everything" (2). Thus begins the clandestine relationship that will change the pair's lives forever.

Both Sebastian and Maria have reasons to be cautious, but the emptiness of their lives compels them to continue meeting on the subway. Despite their growing closeness, the two remain strangers, unwilling to part with their individual secrets. Even when they decide to run away together, Sebastian doesn't realize all that Maria is hiding. When she shows up one night with her daughter in tow, Sebastian quickly realizes that love is a lot more complicated than he ever imagined.

Sebastian's new-found bravery also leads him to question his life in general. Is it right for his father to keep him cooped up, denying him a normal life? Is he strong enough to stand up to the man he has feared for so long? Why do memories of windmills in the desert keep ricocheting in his mind? What do they have to do with his mother, who died when he was a child? These questions, combined with his desire to whisk Maria away to a safer place, propel him on a literal journey into his confusing past.

The plot seems simple, and it is. Chasing Windmills is basically a re-telling of West Side Story, which is, of course, a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. There are also subtle hints of Don Quixote, hence the book's title. Thankfully, Catherine Ryan Hyde's immense talent lets her tell the familiar story of star-crossed lovers in a fresh way. Her characters are fascinating, from sassy Delilah; to romantic, but realistic Maria; to Sebastian, an innocent with old-fashioned manners, whose vulnerability makes him instantly loveable. Even the players who remain one-dimensional will draw you in. Add the subtle and evocative beauty of Hyde's writing and you get a story that feels as complex as it does simple.

Complexity comes into play, especially, at the end of the book. I don't want to spoil it, of course, but let's just say I found the finale surprising and less than satisfying. It works; it's just not how I wanted things to end for Sebastian and Maria. I was also disappointed in the portrayal of Sebastian's father. I wanted to know more about this enigma, who never gets the fleshing out he deserves. The plot line just feels unresolved to me. A few other things bugged me about the book, but overall, I enjoyed the read. Chasing Windmills definitely pulled me in, making me care about its characters and their fates.

If you can't get enough of star-crossed lovers who will defy all odds to be together, this is the book for you. It's a sweet, moving ode to first love in all its simplicity ... and complexity.

Grade: A-


  1. hey Susan! Nice to see you back on the blogging scene :) I had not heard of this book but I'm curious after reading your review. Maybe I'll check it out.

  2. Wish I'd read this before I went to the library today. I think I'll put it on my book list for next time.

  3. my friend recommended this to me so i search for it's plot in the internet. thanks for this post, I'll definitely read this. =)


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