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Originally published Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Book review

'When She Flew': A father and daughter's refuge from real life

Based on real-life events, Seattle novelist Jennie Shortridge's book "When She Flew" is the story of a homeless father and daughter and a cop who tries to protect them. Shortridge reads Thursday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Jennie Shortridge

The author of "When She Flew" will read at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St. in Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or

'When She Flew'

by Jennie Shortridge

NAL Accent, 352 pp., $15


In Jennie Shortridge's novel "When She Flew," Jessica Villareal is a woman lost, a cop in the fictional town of Columbia, Ore., who is a stickler for order and rules but whose vigilant attitude has not served her well in her personal life.

But when Villareal stumbles upon the case of a girl who lives in the woods outside town with her father, the cop invests herself in the future of 13-year-old Lindy Wiggs and her father, Ray, in ways that are astonishing — even to Villareal.

Seattle writer Shortridge's novel is inspired by real-life events surrounding an Iraq vet and his 13-year-old daughter discovered living in the woods outside Portland. There's truth to the story about a girl and her father living in a park off the grid and a police officer's decision to become involved in their lives. But the author's portrayal of Villareal, a middle-aged cop and grandmother, adds a personal, grounding element to a suspenseful story.

"When She Flew" opens with officer Villareal volunteering for a police team that's dispatched to track down a girl after bird watchers spot her alone in the woods. The girl flees, but drops a note with swastikas and apparent references to drugs, and police fear she is in the hands of a sexual predator.

But once the cops track down Lindy and Ray, it becomes clear to Villareal that the girl is safe, happy and healthy in the outdoor encampment she lives in with her father, Ray, a paranoid Iraq vet who prefers the forest to living in town.

Still, Villareal's sergeant decides to separate Lindy and Ray. Villareal is determined not to let the girl get swept up into a messy government system that would keep her away from her father, and she intervenes.

We learn early on Villareal is wrestling with a complicated relationship with her daughter, who has cut her off, and it's not surprising when she transfers her pent-up maternal instincts to Lindy. She also has predictable female insecurities about her weight and her attractiveness to a K-9 officer, who steps in to help once Lindy and Ray's predicament goes public and Villareal is hounded by the media.

Shortridge also gives voice to Lindy Wiggs' inner monologue, with Lindy narrating her side of the midnight encounter with the cops in the woods and her experiences with Villareal, whom she comes to adore. Her young, yet insightful voice offers some perspective on a difficult childhood. But the book's emotional perspective takes second place to the plot, as the characters navigate the whirlwind of media and politics unleashed by Villareal's decision to help the Wiggses.

As Villareal copes with physical injuries and the potential end of the only career she has known, she struggles to find ways to reconnect with her daughter and grandson. And Lindy grows up during the fight to preserve her way of life with her father, learning for herself what kind of life she wants.

Nicole Tsong is a metro reporter for The Seattle Times.

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