Passage Home by Alison McLeay

Romance novels have a reputation for being about fiesty Barbie-dolls who pout and huff and flounce around in foo-foo dresses, enticing dangerous prince-charmings. Good ones though are about Women in Charge. And what better fantasy for summer escapism?

"Passage Home"'s action spans the dark and rocky coast of Newfoundland to pioneer America to the shipbuilding boom in Liverpool. The romance princess Rachel goes from rags to riches to more riches to rags to middle class to incredible, gleeful, piles of money riches (of course). The difference between this and so many other wide-screen technicolor romance novels is that Rachel learns to take charge of her life "like a bear let out of his cage" and this basic edge to her personality makes her rich, intelligent, sexy. The men and the bad guys, including Rachel's mother, stand at rapt attention. With their mouths hanging open (more good fantasy--this author may be onto something).

Rachel begins her journey a homely and misfit Jane Eyre eight year old. She reads a lot and takes care of sick animals. She has straight hair. "Defects of temper," quips her ambitious but bitterly disenfranchised mother. Rachel's father, the town drunk, is too busy with his own misery to notice her. So, ignored or condemned, young and serious Rachel spends her days reading in dark corners or caring for her misfit pets: a bird that can't fly, a blind kitten. In this opening is the whole seed for Rachel's eventual rebellion. When the world wrongs you, you either get nasty or smart. Rachel gets really smart.

Rachel matures into a mysteriously attractive woman slightly uncomfortable in society, unsure of what she wants, and occasionally Scarlett O'Hara headstrong. She still reads a lot and has a head full of ideas. Her need to do for herself is her doom and her salvation.

So author Alison McLeay gives Rachel a little adventure. And if that wasn't enough for a lady--a little more. McLeay picks her up like a paper doll, marches her around (how do you like THIS?), gives her a good shaking, and a couple of kicks in the pants.

Luckily, Rachel gets through this with only a couple of scratches. Seeing hunger as well as fancy dresses, being a bawdy showgirl as well as a debutante, Rachel earns the big muscles of independent womanhood; the paper doll springs into the third dimension. She's more interested in this than the showy rooster male heroes. She falls less in love with the men in her life than with her own spirit of self-sufficiency. Of course Rachel does fall in love (it's a requirement of the genre), but her love for men seems ambiguous compared to her zest for life. In fact, Rachel's greatest moment is not when she finally attains a wealthy and sexy Man, but when she stands in the pouring rain on the deck of her own steamship, built only due to her persistence. Nowhere else in the novel does Rachel smile, glow, and dance as much as in this revealing scene.

Rachel takes charge, rather than letting Prince Charming take charge of her.