Sebastian is just 17 years old, but he seems even younger. His father has kept him more or less imprisoned in their apartment since Sebastian's mother left when he was seven. Sebastian's life is scheduled and policed by "Father" (Sebastian notes ruefully that he would never dare call his father "Dad" or "Pop"), who homeschools him and oversees every other detail of his existence, from his healthy diet to the books he reads in his leisure time. Both Sebastian and his father have no friends or social life. They do not attend church, go to movies or join clubs. What's more, Sebastian's father warns him that he must guard carefully against emotions such as excitement or happiness, since those will lead inevitably to heartbreak.
Sebastian does have one allowed outlet. A doctor told his father that he needed fresh air and exercise, and so Sebastian is allowed to go for a daily run. It is on one of these excursions that he meets his one and only friend, Delilah, who is staying temporarily in an apartment in Sebastian's building. She is visiting from San Diego, and the knowledge that she will be leaving lends a bittersweet note to their friendship. Meanwhile, Delilah mothers Sebastian. She also opens doors for him to the everyday world, showing him films on DVD (Sebastian's father does not believe in movies), encouraging him to vent to her, and giving him forbidden foods like pizza, soft pretzels and Chinese food.
Since Sebastian's father takes a sleeping pill every night, and then sleeps soundly, Sebastian has begun slipping out of the apartment to ride the subway for hours. Although he confesses to being pretty much terrified of everything, these respites away from his father feel like a peaceful refuge. On one of these outings, he spies a beautiful young woman who also appears to be riding the subway without a destination. Their eyes meet briefly, since they are the car's only occupants, all the way to the end of the line --- and beyond.
The stranger is obviously older than Sebastian, wrapped up almost entirely, but Sebastian guesses that she's in her early 20s. She appears delicate, with a mark on her cheek that may be a bruise. Somehow, mysteriously and magically, his fellow rider arouses strong, unnamable emotions in the lonely young man.
The other subway rider is Maria, the mother of two young children. She has lived with their abusive father, Carl, since she became pregnant at 15. Now she has been fired from her night-time job at a grocery store. Shocking herself, Maria has chosen not to reveal that she is jobless, although she knows inevitably that Carl will discover this fact and become enraged. She is riding the subway at night to delay his eventual fury, during which he will no doubt hurt her by squeezing her arms and shoving her. Maria is hyper-conscious of Sebastian during their initial ride, and although she does not want to make trouble with Carl or cause problems for the young stranger, she cannot resist making contact with him. Little does she know how much their lives will change as a result.
CHASING WINDMILLS is a poignant and offbeat romance between two lonely victims, relayed tenderly. Author Catherine Ryan Hyde weaves a compelling account with strands reminiscent of gritty fairy tales and classic love stories into an original modern-day fable. I had a hard time putting this book down, because I truly could not predict the plot twists and turns, which led ultimately to a realistic and worthy conclusion.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on March 4, 2008