It's impossible not to fall for the winningly eccentric cast of characters in Laura Pedersen's laugh-out-loud sequel to her acclaimed novel BEGINNER'S LUCK. Pedersen reunites 17-year-old card-shark Hallie Palmer with the zany Stockton clan, including cause-obsessed sixty-something radical Olivia and her flamboyant son Bernard, whose unparalleled passion for antiques, old musicals and theme dinners makes for never a dull (or hungry) moment in the household. Add in a highly unusual pet --- Rocky, the alcoholic chimpanzee --- and hilarity ensues around nearly every corner. But underneath its witty repartee and humorous goings-on, this novel poses more serious questions of the heart that everyone can relate to, namely: "What does your heart desire?" and "How do you know when someone is 'the one'"?
If Hallie had the answers, she'd feel a lot more content as her first year away at college comes to an end and she finds herself more mixed up about love (and lust) than ever, despite her numerous string of short-lived boyfriends. In addition to her romantic woes and raging hormones, she also suffers from financial worries and must somehow find a way to come up with next year's tuition or be forced to drop out. With her parents cash-strapped from raising seven other kids and her previous high-yielding pursuits of horse betting and casino games ruled out now that she's gone straight, she accepts a summer job back in her hometown doing yard work at the Stocktons.
In spite of their eccentricities, they were the ones who had taken her in two years earlier and managed to reform her status as the town miscreant, a title she'd rightly garnered after dropping out of high school, running away from home and having several brushes with the law. Now, however, it's time for Hallie to return the favor by helping Bernard Stockton cope with his depression over the break-up of his twelve-year relationship with Gil, who had left him and started dating a woman. For once, Bernard doesn't have a Bette Davis quote or a blueberry blintz recipe in his arsenal that can bring back his usual good spirits and high humor.
And in another mark of just how much she'd matured since leaving for school, Hallie is approached by her frazzled mother (pregnant again, this time with twins) for help in trying to get her hard-partying younger sister back on track during a streak of adolescent rebellion. For the first time, Hallie glimpses the pressures and responsibilities that come with being an adult, and despite her shock at being on the giving, rather than receiving, end of advice, she rises to the challenge with typical aplomb.
While excelling at helping others with their troubles, Hallie falters when it comes to making sense of her own romantic life, and a new love interest combined with an ongoing attraction to her old high school flame doesn't help matters. Meanwhile, Bernard's decision to adopt a Chinese baby proves to be just what he needs to bring back his feisty show-tune singing, theme-party hosting ways of old. Convinced there's no obstacle that a good redecorating project can't overcome, he throws himself with new vigor into revamping the house and gardens to win over the adoption agency.
By summer's end, several surprising turns of events have transpired for both Hallie and the Stocktons as they come to mutually discover that love can arrive in unsuspecting ways and patience pays off in spades because "Your heart's desire may actually be an as-yet-undealt card." With its appealingly honest protagonist, clever dialogue peppered with hilarious one-liners, and buoyant combination of charm and feistiness, HEART'S DESIRE demonstrates the importance of friendship in deciphering matters of the heart.
Reviewed by Joni Rendon on July 26, 2005