A trio of stories with heroines equal to any man. Teen novels

THREE teen novels should warm the hearts of those who feel strongly that young women ought to be portrayed as the equals of young men in strength, courage, intelligence, and adventurousness. The workworn, self-sacrificing mothers in these novels fare less well, however. Shadowy figures with few rewards, they endure poverty and isolation because of the economic or moral failures of their mates.

In The Hostage, by Theodore Taylor (Delacorte, New York, $14.95, 160 pp., ages 12 and up), Angela Pinheiro, 15, is the secret love of narrator Jamie Tidd, 14. Jamie works on his father's boat in a poor fishing camp near Vancouver. Angie, his only companion when she isn't away at school, does the same tough work on her father's boat.

Their friendship is tested when Jamie and his father successfully trap a blackfish - a 40-foot killer whale - in a cove. They do it for the $100,000 reward promised by a marine park. Jamie plans to use his share of the money to buy his dream dirt bike and go away to school. His mother will take her dream trip to Maui.

Angie is among those who believe it is inhumane to trap a mammal, however, and she attempts its rescue. The killer whale attacks her, and Jamie then saves her.

The Tidds, convinced that Angie is right, give up their dreams for principle. They remove their fishnet from the opening of the cove and watch the whale swim free.

This splendid tale vibrates with vivid descriptions of the Canadian far west. The writer shares his knowledge of nature, fishing, whales, and people. Kindness and cruelty duel. Danger and tensions are always on his shores.

The relationships in the family are warm, and the people honest, especially about their flaws. The ache in Jamie's heart is genuine. True, boy rescues girl in the tradition of male chauvinism, but this deed does not dim Angie's daring. And boy decides girl is right.

The environmental issue is popular with young people, though bound to cause conflict in lovers of killer whale performers such as Sea World's Baby Shamu.

Superior writing makes ``The Hostage'' a joy to read. The novel begins: ``There was poetry to the killer whale's world as he swam along, gliding just beneath the surface or rising and falling in the thin band of light. Sky. Wind and sea. A lovely free loneliness.''

Another novel, Not on a White Horse, by Nancy Springer (Atheneum, New York, $13.95, 192 pp., ages 10 and up), offers analogies from a different environment as Rhiannon DiAngelo endures the traumas of growing up in a western Pennsylvania coal-mining town.

Ree's father, who has worked at odd jobs since the steel mills closed, is an alcoholic; her older sister forsakes school for a too-young marriage; her mother, who wanted to be a teacher, works at two low-paying jobs in a factory and a store.

Ree is led by a runaway Arabian gelding to a farm where she helps rehabilitate horses - and finds her own self-esteem. She stops trying to rescue her father and confronts him with the knowledge that he must save himself.

Ree also decides on a career working with horses. Her goal plays into the theme of the title, that young women should not depend solely on a man - a knight on a white horse - to sweep them to happiness. They should instead create their own choices through education and achievement.

The book is well written, even poetic at times. And Springer for the most part navigates this craggy landscape of societal problems with grace. She stumbles at times with too-explicit language and behavior. But the need for the message is great, and the attempt deserves applause.

In Megan's Island, by Willo Davis Roberts (Atheneum, New York, $12.95, 192 pp., ages 8 to 12), young Megan is baffled when she and her younger brother are suddenly, secretly moved to their grandfather's cabin in Lakewood, Minn.

She tracks the mystery that could have been quickly solved if her mother had only confided that the children's father, whom they had presumed dead for many years, recently died in prison. And his father (their other grandfather), who had earlier tried to get custody of the children, has offered a reward to find them.

Two men seeking the reward try to kidnap the children, but through Megan's ingenuity the youngsters capture the kidnappers. It all ends happily enough, but the grim realities of kidnapping do not seem appropriate in an adventure tale for young people who may already be fearful of being stolen or misplaced.

And discovering that a father has been in prison cannot be dealt with so casually.

Lucille deView is a writer for Florida Today.

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