Combined-family saga; Gardine vs. Hanover, by Joan L. Oppenheimer. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. 152 pp. $8.95.

In spite of all the harsh words and backbiting and fighting and tears, this is a book about love. Tried love.

Building a new family isn't as easy as Frances Gardine and Berkley Hanover had anticipated before their marriage, the second for each of them. Although their two youngest children hit it off from the start, 15-year-old Jill Gardine and 16-year-old Caroline Hanover -- the Gardine and Hanover of the title -- are determined not to live together under the same roof.

The sniping begins on their parents' wedding day and drags on and on, down and down, until the household is seemingly split beyond repair, and the two families separate.

An injured kitten is one of the catalysts that finally bring the two older girls together. That and the realization that they can't let their own imagined shortcomings and inadequacies destroy everyone else's happiness.

With realistic, crisp dialogue and just the right touches of heart, author Oppenheimer gives us a helpful look at the kinds of challenges many newly combined families are facing -- and surmounting -- today.

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