An Unlikely Friendship Between Women in Need


By Ann Hood

Picador USA

240 pp., $22

Olivia is shattered, defeated, and anchored in the past. In the year since her husband was hit by a car and killed, she hasn't shaken her all-consuming grief or gained the strength to move forward. Engulfed by bitterness and inertia, she hides in her old Rhode Island summer house.

Then one day she finds Ruby in her kitchen, a pregnant teenager looking for a cup of water. A relationship begins that wakes her up to the value of life.

Ann Hood's "Ruby" artfully captures the spirit of these two very different women, caught up together in a small East Coast community. Although the novel occasionally drifts toward melodrama, the story is entirely convincing, and the generation gap between them is humorous and touching.

Ruby - hardened, manipulative, and just 15 - is painted with true and candid brush strokes. She's cool and complicated, while Olivia is wounded by the trauma of loss.

Neither is easy to like, but Hood depicts their needy and eventually loving relationship with such realism and intensity that she lights up the novel, transforming it from a story wallowing in sentimentality, to an electric, engaging read. It's the details that make "Ruby" a class act - Olivia's penchant for humming, Ruby's plastic pink Brady Bunch wallet - they all contribute to this believable world.

"Ruby" contains insights about human nature that deserve attention. The issue of teenage pregnancy is handled with particular sensitivity and care. This is well-crafted, thoughtful entertainment.

* Caitlin Shannon is a Monitor intern.

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