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Chasing Sophea    by Gabrielle Pina order for
Chasing Sophea
by Gabrielle Pina
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

After giving us a tantalizing glimpse from an eleven-year-old girl's eyes of a family struggling with the mental illness of the mother, Gabrielle Pina fast forwards to show us that child as a woman, Dahlia Chang, facing her own mental dissolution, and estranged from her father Lucius. This psychological study continues from the points of view of a variety of characters, mostly members of Dahlia's family and those close to them, as well as Dahlia's close friend, Phoebe Graham, who 'was tired of craving someone else's life.'

In California, on the insistence of her husband Michael, Dahlia consults a professional, but progress is miniscule, though Dr. Kelly does eventually make a surprising diagnosis of a serious mental condition. Early in the book, we learn that Dahlia's mother was 'not playing with a full deck or was four cans short of a six-pack.' Dahlia often looked after her younger siblings, especially when her father was busy with his funeral parlor business. Then, on a day when a tornado named Sophea blew devastation through Texas, tragedy struck Dahlia's family. But we only learn the details late in the novel as the adult Dahlia has suppressed all memories of that time.

There's a strong spiritual element to the story, with colorful characters like half-Choctaw Aunt Baby, who's a healer and has visions - she eventually decides that it's time to intervene to save her great-niece, and gains as her reward the resolution of the lifelong attraction between herself and albino Percival Tweed, who has his own form of seeing. Other sub-plot threads run through the weave of the story including the mystery of the origins of Aunt Baby's adopted son Dante (known as Brother), and his attraction to Lucius' much younger wife Mercy. Of course, Gabrielle Pina pulls all these threads together for a satisfying ending, with a nice litte twist to the very last sentence. Reading groups will enjoy Chasing Sophea.

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