The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel

Well, I can't tell you everything. Besides, I'm not the one to ask. I never thought Ayla should have gotten back with that petulant, babyish beefy-man Jondolar. Remember how disgusted he was when he found out she had been raised by Neanderthals? She should have taken off right there. She should have stayed with the sensitive, friendly, exotic artist, Ranec. Everyone I know has taken sides.

For those who came in late, Ayla, cave woman, is the first animal tamer, the first human to understand conception, and inventor of the sewing needle. And she is back, more muscular than ever. Ayla can hunt, kill with accuracy, fry it up in a pan like a chef and afterwards still have starry eyes for Jondolar, her ice-age lover.

When Auel left us in "The Mammoth Hunters," her third book in the Earth's Children series, Ayla had reconciled with Jondolar and the two of them had set off across the tundra to travel half a continent. In "The Plains of Passage," they battle the rocky terrain, locust swarms, flash floods, intense cold, and even a tribe of would-be Amazons.

Along the way, Ayla hones her hunting and gathering skills, while the reader gets a lesson in paleontological botany. Ayla is a healer, a medicine woman, who, as she travels across the plains, picks plants and herbs to put into her medicine bag to use later for such varied purposes as anesthesia for surgery, birth control, or bug bites. The woman has a cure for everything.

Auel's intensely researched minute descriptions of land, plants, animals and survival techniques are finer and more detailed than ever: the real meat of her books. Auel, in fact, has earned the respect of scientists around the world for her anthropological accuracy which makes a firm foundation for more fantastic prehistoric adventures.

One of my friends says, "everyone loves her books, but nobody ever said she could write." Well, I guess. Auel can string a reader along in the finest tradition of romance, but her words can grate the poor ear of an English major. I will never forget the time, in the first novel, "Clan of the Cave Bear," Ayla woke up to a "melodious cacophony" of birds. This novel includes an "epiphany of stars." But who cares, anyway?

What we really want to know is this: will Ayla ever see her son Durc again? Will she ever find her own people, from whom she has been separated since she was a little girl? Will there be tension between the Others and the Flatheads? Maybe.

I'll tell you that Ayla's psychic powers (left over from that time she drank a little of the medicine mens' halucinogenic cocktail) become more apparent. She travels near her old family of Neanderthals. Her relationship with Jondolar isn't always a bed of beneficial herbs. And she gets to rescue more than a few souls. The book is hard to read without wanting to fly to the last chapter. Auel beckons us to follow Ayla, cruelly hushing our questions as we speed through her engrossing saga. It's worth it, trust me.