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Book Review

Loving--and Learning to Cope With--a Disturbed Young Boy

March 05, 2000|From Associated Press

"Storm Riders" (Picador USA, $24) is a novel that really grows on the reader. At first, you might think there are too many details. And besides, you're not even sure you want to read about a man raising a retarded boy.

Soon, your heart pounds as you wonder whether the boy--whom you've begun to care about--will hurt or kill a smaller child or a pet. As the end nears and you are emotionally caught up, you might find yourself reading just one more chapter past your bedtime.

The author, Craig Lesley, has raised a boy with fetal alcohol syndrome. His book feels entirely real, with its pull of love, duty, frustration and attempts to figure out what to do. Lesley is an artful novelist.

In the book, Clark and his wife, Payette, from the Tlingit Indian village of Angoon in Alaska, take in her 6-year-old cousin, Wade. Wade is unpredictable and difficult to deal with. He's a very slow learner who doesn't understand the consequences of his actions. He sometimes grasps concepts then forgets them, sometimes fantasizes, sometimes gets wildly excited.

He is tested by several counselors and psychologists. Diagnoses vary from "emotionally disturbed" onward, and the usual advice is that Wade might improve with a peaceful home environment.

Payette leaves when she can no longer tolerate life centered around Wade. Clark, helped by his mother, copes until he marries again. Second wife Natalie feels battered by the Wade whirlwind too.

An interesting element of the book is the outdoors part of Clark's life. He teaches in a small Oregon college and usually lives in a farmhouse. Descriptions of fishing trips and life in Angoon are beyond the knowledge of city dwellers.

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