Abandoned by Jennie Hansen
Reviewed by Michele Ashman Bell
Published by Covenant Communication, Inc. (262 pages, $14.95)

“Pa, don’t hurt me, please love me,” she screamed, as he continued to hit her. Pain exploded inside her head. Darkness approached, but through the fog of pain she saw Darren coming.

His small fists rained blows against Pa’s side. Out of his mouth came frenzied words. “Don’t kill her, Pa. Fathers ain’t s’posed to hurt their little girls.”

It isn’t difficult to see why Jennie Hansen is quickly becoming one of LDS fiction’s favorite authors. Her stories get right to the heart of the matter, dealing with difficult issues, providing gritty, true-to-life characters, and presenting plots that don’t pull any punches. Yet, mixed with the strong doses of reality are moments of tenderness, spirituality, and examples of people overcoming adversity through adherence to gospel principals.

Jennie’s newest release, Abandoned stays true to form and grabs you from the very beginning, keeping a tense grip throughout the entire story.

The book begins with the introduction of two characters, a brother and sister, trying to survive in a home of abuse, neglect and drugs. The children have no food, barely enough clothes to cover themselves and the complete absence of love. The only bright spot in their lives is their drug-addicted mother’s sister, Josie, who occasionally brings them something to eat or an item of clothing. Their heartwrenching predicament tugs at the reader’s emotions as the young girl is beaten senseless by their father for sneaking a candy bar.

Aunt Josie discovers the battered young girl and rescues her from the horrible situation only to abandon her by the roadside as she and her boyfriend carry out their own illegal activities.

Jumping to the present we see the young girl, now a grown woman, facing the challenges of committing to a serious relationship and finding a fulfilling career. She’s just broken off her sixth engagement and turns to her step-brother, Peter, for support. Both adopted, Peter and Tisa, forged a deep bond as young children, closer than most biological siblings, because, like Tisa, he also came from an abusive home, surrounded by neglect, violence and drugs.

Tisa wonders why she can’t commit to anything permanent. She’s been through five universities, changed her major four times, lived in at least a dozen different apartments and as many changes of hair color, nine jobs and now, six fiances. She knows she has issues from her past but isn’t about to let a shrink mess with her head to find out what they are. She’d gone to a psychiatrist for two years as a young girl and still couldn’t forget how awful those sessions had been. Even now she still has nightmares and visions of a huge monster with yellow eyes and a big, gaping jaw pursuing her.

Peter, a former Drug Enforcement Administration officer; and now lieutenant with the Salt Lake City police department, has an uncanny knack for sniffing out drugs and is the best drug enforcement officer on the force. When McCabe Evans, an undercover FBI agent posing as a private investigator, arrives in town, it’s Peter he requests for a partner. “Cabe’s” objective is to shut down the Dempsky crime syndicate at all costs and Lewis’ background makes him the best partner possible.

Cabe has a personal interest in bringing down the Dempsky’s, a family business. Aside from all their other illegal activities, they were responsible for killing a young girl Cabe had grown to love; a girl who’s father had ties with the Dempskys; a girl who was innocently pulled into their world of evil. Hoping to avenge her daughter’s death, the girl’s mother has become Cabe’s informant.

Together, Cabe and Peter forge a relationship with one goal in mind, to destroy the Dempsky empire.

Understandably reluctant with love, Tisa finds herself as attracted to Cabe as he is to her, but she isn’t about to get involved with a man so soon after breaking off her last engagement. Still, she can’t ignore the attraction to Cabe nor his admirable strength and convictions for his own beliefs in the LDS church.

As Cabe and Peter dig deeper into the case, Tisa’s past begins to come back to haunt her. She can no longer bury her past or run from her memories. Glimpses of her childhood come unbidden but her desire to deepen her relationship with God and become more knowledgeable in the gospel gives her the strength to face the demons of her past.

Death and deceit plague the Dempsky case as Cabe and Peter come closer to finding the leader of the crime syndicate and more and more people are left dead in the Dempsky’s wake.

Jennie Hansen’s writing shines as she masterfully weaves intricate plot lines like finely crafted tapestry. You can tell she’s done her homework as she offers fascinating police procedure, using detail and accuracy that gives the story a solid base and constant tension.

Full of excitement and nail biting tension, the unfolding mystery in the book will keep you reading until the early morning hours. But as with all her other books, Jennie Hansen’s use of gospel principals to help the characters face their challenges and overcome obstacles is inspiring and uplifting, adding a spiritual dimension to the book that definitely makes it worth the reader’s time.

The tension mounts as plot lines cross, clues are revealed and realizations are made bringing an occasional gasp from the reader. Ultimately, revelations in Tisa’s past help solve the case and will leave the reader with a satisfying ending.

Cabe makes a wonderful hero, a guy every girl wishes for; strong, spiritual, witty and a little mysterious. Tisa is equally engaging as a heroine and with the turn of every page the reader will cheer her on as she faces her greatest challenges. Even the secondary characters are well-developed and interesting, making the story seem alive and real, especially when set in well described backgrounds with great attention to detail.

I did, however, suffer a slight case of information overload at the start of chapter one with the introduction of many characters and background information, but no more than I’d experienced when reading a Grisham novel. Don’t spend time re-reading to learn names and who’s who in the story because Hansen will tie all the names and information in as the plot unfolds.

There is also a fair amount of “coincidence” pivotal to the plot, which for some may be a little hard to swallow, but since truth is indeed stranger than fiction, the plot worked for me and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading the novel.

Jennie Hansen is truly at her best with Abandoned a book that can be enjoyed by both men or women. There are some mature elements to the story that might not be appropriate for younger readers, but nothing that strays from gospel standards. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in reading a well written and engaging book.

2002 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.