Out Of The Blue
by Sally Mandel, contemporary (2002)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-42891-9


This book is marketed as "Fiction" (read: "Women's Fiction"), when in fact it is a romance story. But hey, since publishers know that romance readers are incapable of savoring anything but beautiful, virginal nitwits in rescue fantasies, and there are enough vocal nitwit readers, who will get very loud if they are confronted with anything that even dares challenge their faculties, to reinforce the notion, I only hope Sally Mandel reaches more and more readers with the "Fiction" label and hopefully write more lovely and elegant romances like Out Of The Blue. Toss the overzealous "I read for fantasy, fun, and rescue fantasies, don't you DARE put anything new or different in my books!" nitwit escapists, they don't know what they are missing and I doubt they care.

Bitter, moi? Only because truly romantic books seem to find the notion of having the word "Romance" slapped on their spine as something shameful, like tacky furniture in one's den. Out Of The Blue is a romance novel, but because the heroine has multiple sclerosis, oh no, it's no longer "romantic" and hence "fiction", not "romance". Yes, I'm bitter.

But enough about me. Anna Bolles has multiple sclerosis, and she has had five years to cope with remissions and unpredictable breakdown of the various functions of her body. One day she meets a gorgeous, handsome, Joe Malone, at a photo exhibition, and they discuss a bridge Joe has photographed. From thereon, they go on to discuss their life. This is small talk romantic whimsy at its best: how many romance authors forget that talk, not stripping in the name of rescue fantasies, is the key to a successful romance, and it is the bond, not who is the freaking serial killer, that makes a satisfying romance. And it's obvious that even when Anna is hesitant, there's a seed of attraction between the two of them.

But Anna backs off. Come on, get real - Joe is too good to be true, right? Her foul-mouthed but good-hearted momma doesn't think so, but Anna prefers to wait and see. But Joe takes time to learn all he can about MS, and he pursues her so relentlessly that they have a wonderful second date (ahem). But what now? Anna has MS, after all, and can she trust Joe to stick around? Will the pain be worth it?

What I love about this story is its simple, stripped-down, and elegant drama. No melodrama, and no, it's not even a rescue fantasy. In the end, it's Anna who rescues herself, and it's Anna who makes the decision to love even after Joe proves that he's not Mr Perfect, just human. Elegant, simple, and moving, Out Of The Blue moves along not as an elegy but a hymn to the courage of a woman who dares to take chances to love. Ms Mandel's easy and gentle humor only brings Anna to life - vulnerable, strong, loving, and human, Anna is a character who is such a joy to follow. It's a difficult thing to do to follow her body's breakdown as the MS progresses, but in the end, it's worth all my tears and heartache. You go, Anna! And say hi to your wonderful Mom for me while you're at it.

Yeah, Out Of The Blue is heroine-centric - it's even written in first person - but it boasts a wonderful secondary cast of Anna's students and of course, Anna's mother that only bring out the best in the heroine. And the hero's not too bad either - he says and does some really beautiful things that make me mist all over.

I'm not expecting anything when I picked this book up out of curiosity, but hey, I'm pleasantly surprised. Out Of The Blue is beautiful serendipity to be savored over and over again.

Rating: 94


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