Chasing Windmills

Chasing Windmills

4.8 9
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes a provocative and unlikely love story that starts on a New York subway car and blossoms under the windmills of the Mojave Desert.Both Sebastian and Maria live in worlds ruled by fear. Sebastian, a lonely seventeen-year-old, is suffocating under his dominant father's control; Maria, a young mother of two, is


From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes a provocative and unlikely love story that starts on a New York subway car and blossoms under the windmills of the Mojave Desert.Both Sebastian and Maria live in worlds ruled by fear. Sebastian, a lonely seventeen-year-old, is suffocating under his dominant father's control; Maria, a young mother of two, is trying to keep peace at home despite her boyfriend's abuse. When their eyes meet across a subway car one night, these two strangers find a connection that neither can explain or ignore. They dream of a new future and agree to run away together, only to find that each has kept a major secret from the other. In this tremendously moving novel, Catherine Ryan Hyde shows us how two people trapped by life's circumstances can break free and find a place in the world where love is genuine and selfless.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Simple and captivating. It is [the characters'] voices—at once utterly credible and heartbreakingly naïve—that make the book.” —Publishers Weekly "A sweet tale openly modeled on West Side Story . . . centering on how people come to grip with their pasts." —Kirkus Reviews“A reimagining of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers . . . but fresh and new. . . . A page-turning read. . . . The distinct voices are sweet, soul-baring, and honest. Hyde writes evocatively of the visceral nature of first love.” —School Library Journal
Publishers Weekly

In the simple and captivating latest from Pay It Forwardauthor Hyde, a chance encounter proves life-changing for two lonely New York City subway riders. Four months shy of 18, Sebastian Mundt has been held a virtual prisoner by his father since his mother died: his father home-schools him and doesn't let him have outside relationships. One night, with his father heavily sedated by his sleeping pill, Sebastian sneaks out to ride the subway and locks eyes with Maria Arquette, a young mother who is caught in an abusive marriage. The two share an instant connection and take to meeting on the subway almost nightly and tentatively planning a future in the California desert town that Sebastian remembers from childhood, where thousands of windmills stretch out across the horizon. Hyde gracefully alternates between Sebastian's and Maria's perspectives with gentle nods to this New York love story's precursors (Maria obsessively watches West Side Story). It is their voices-at once utterly credible and heartbreakingly naïve-that make the book, and while this is being billed as an adult novel, its closest stylistic relative is S.E. Hinton's YA classic The Outsiders. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Seventeen-year-old Sebastian Mundt is homeschooled by his father in New York City. He hadn't seen his mother, now dead, since he was seven. When his father goes to sleep, Sebastian rides the subways, just to get out of the house. On one of his nocturnal subterranean journeys, he encounters 22-year-old Maria Arquette, who takes her own late-night rides to escape her abusive boyfriend, Carl, the father of her two children. A fan of the movie West Side Story (she was named for the lead character), Maria wishes her life could be as romantic. She calls Sebastian Tony, the movie's hero, and imagines a scenario where they run away together. Sebastian wants to get away from his domineering father, perhaps to the windmills he recalls from his brief stay as a child with his grandmother in the California desert. It does sound romantic, but how will Sebastian react to Maria's children? And how will she prevent Carl from finding her? Hyde (Love in the Present Tense ) presents two damaged people who are too young to have withstood all they have yet strong enough to take that first step to something, "somewhere" better. Readers will dream right along with them while realizing that real life (even as portrayed in novels) isn't like the movies. Recommended for public library collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/07.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School -Hydea€™s coming-of-age novel is a reimagining of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers-intentionally reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story , but fresh and new as well. Sebastian, 17, and Maria, 24, meet while riding New Yorka€™s subway trains a€™til the wee hours of the morning. Hea€™s a sheltered homeschooler who sneaks out of the apartment after his controlling father takes his nightly sleeping pill. Shea€™s a mother of two whoa€™s afraid to tell her abusive husband that shea€™s lost her night-shift job. Therea€™s also a fairy godmother-Delilah is a wise old woman who introduces Sebastian to the delights of pizza and DVDs and counsels him on love and the ways of the world. Sebastian and Maria alternate as narrators; short chapters make for a page-turning read and the distinct voices are sweet, soul-baring, and honest. Hyde writes evocatively of the visceral nature of first love. Her characters are well developed, and she describes settings (New York City, a cross-country bus trip, the Mojave Desert) economically but effectively. The ending is realistic and satisfying. Chasing Windmills will appeal to teens who enjoy realistic fiction and a good story about relationships.-Sondra VanderPloeg, Tracy Memorial Library, New London, NH

Kirkus Reviews
Hyde (Love In The Present Tense, 2006, etc.) chronicles two New Yorkers' efforts to escape their different but equally constricting lives in a sweet tale openly modeled on West Side Story. Alternating chapters between the two main characters, the author begins with Sebastian, a naive 17-year-old who chafes under the domination of his strange, obsessive father. Home schooling prevents him from making friends his own age, and he's almost completely isolated until a doctor's orders give him a chance to escape his stifling apartment for a few hours each day to get fresh air and exercise. Sebastian spends most of his free time with his only friend, Delilah, an older black woman who has rented an apartment to be near her new grandchild. Delilah doesn't just provide companionship, she also gives him permission to start living for himself. Aimlessly riding the subway late at night just to get out of the house, Sebastian sees a young woman who, like him, goes to the end of the line and back. The two feel an instantaneous spark and, despite several miscues, finally manage to connect. Her name is Maria, and she's riding the Lexington Avenue line during the hours she'd normally be working to keep her abusive boyfriend Carl, father of her two children, from discovering that she's lost her job. When she and Sebastian find themselves falling in love, they see a chance to escape from their individual traps. She nicknames him "Tony," so they'll be Tony and Maria, just like in West Side Story. While the two plan, motherless Sebastian makes a devastating discovery that sends him to California to see his grandmother. That journey takes both him and Maria to the edge of a life-changing decision. A gentle talecentering on how people come to grip with their pasts. Agent: Laura Rennert/Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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Read an Excerpt

This is the part that’s going to be hard to explain: How can I tell you why two people who were afraid of everything–other people, open places, noise, confusion, life itself–wound up riding the subways alone under Manhattan late at night?

Okay, it’s like this: When everything is unfamiliar and scary, your heart pounds just getting change from the grocery cashier. That feels like enough to kill you right there. So the danger of the subways at night can’t be much worse. All danger begins to fall into the same category. You have no way to sink any deeper into fear.

Besides, consider the alternative. Staying home.

That’s enough about that for now. I need to tell you about her.

She got on the Lexington Avenue Local at…what was it?…I think Union Square. Funny how a thing like that can be so damned important, but you don’t know it’s important until an instant later in the big scheme of time. Then you go back and try to retrieve it. You tell yourself it’s in there somewhere. But it’s really in that no-man’s-land of the moment before you woke up and started paying attention to your own life.

I’m pretty sure it was Union Square.

At first we looked at each other for a split second, but of course we looked away immediately. It’s part of what makes us like the animals, I suppose. Ever seen two dogs circling to fight? They look right into each other’s eyes. It’s a challenge. So when a dog doesn’t want to challenge anybody, he looks away. In case I haven’t made it clear by now, we were two dogs who weren’t looking for a fight.

But then, after we both looked away, we weren’t afraid of each other anymore. We knew we didn’t have to be. I mean, except to the extent that we were afraid of everything.

There was no one else on the car. It rumbled along again, with that special rocking, and the clacking noise, the lights flashing off now and then. And the heat. It was only May, but the heat had started early. It was after midnight, so I guess you’d think it was all cooled off by then, but it wasn’t. A little bit cooler up on the street. Not so much down there. It was stuffy, like more air would be nice.

Every now and then we’d hear a noise that could have been somebody opening the door from another car. And we’d jump in unison, and look up. But it was never anybody. Just the two of us all the way to the end of the line.

Once I looked over at her while she was looking away. Her hair was dark and thick and about down to her shoulders. Her face was thin, like the rest of her. I couldn’t figure out if there was something angular about her face, or something almost delicate. Maybe both.

I was trying to get a bead on how old she was. Older than me, that’s for sure. I mean, she was a full-grown woman. But young enough, I guess. But maybe old compared to me. Early twenties.
Every inch of her was covered. Except her face. Jeans, boots, some kind of shawl thing wrapped around her. Seemed like too much to wear in that heat.

And a hat. She was wearing a hat over all that dark hair. A gray felt thing with a big brim. So all she had to do was dip her head an inch or two, and she was gone again. She could break off eye contact just like that. It seemed like such a great plan. I wondered why I’d never thought of it myself.

And on one cheek, a dark spot. Not exactly a bruise, but something like one. Like a shadow. Like she’d had some sort of an accident.

I think I remember feeling that it was a lovely face, but maybe I’m adding that in after the fact. It’s hard to go back and describe what you thought of such an important face the first time you saw it. The memory gets colored with all those other things you felt later on. It’s hard to separate them out again. But whatever I thought about her face, I noticed it. And it held me.

Then she looked up and I quick looked away.

At the end of the line, we both waited. And neither one of us got off the train.

You see, it says a lot about someone when they don’t get off at the end of the line. When they just sit there with the doors open until the train starts back the other way. Right back to–or past–where they started out in the first place. That says a lot.

After the train started back up again, she looked right into my eyes. She didn’t look away and neither did I.

Something happened in me. I’m not sure how good I’ll be at explaining what it was. But it was an actual physical something. Something in my body. And I’m not going to go into any personal information about certain body reactions, because some things I’m just not comfortable discussing. Some things a gentleman doesn’t talk about. Or, anyway, that’s what I believe. But something happened in my gut. Like all of a sudden something that used to be solid in there turned to water. Hot water. In my arms, too, around my elbows. And a little bit down my legs. Especially around my knees. I remembered hearing an expression about being weak in the knees, and I guess I understood it for the first time. And there was a tingling associated with all this. A kind of all-over tingling, but mostly in my face. Which felt a little hot, like it might be turning red.

Then it was too much and we both looked away again. But not the same way we had before.

We rode like that for another hour or so, and never looked at each other after that. I wanted to look, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Then I woke up–which was weird because I’d never felt myself go to sleep–and I was on that subway car by myself, and she was gone. I looked at my watch, and it was after three.

All I could think was that I wanted to talk to Delilah about this. About what had just happened. But, what had just happened? What was I supposed to say? There was this woman on the subway, and she looked at me. But in the few weeks I’d been talking to Delilah, every time I told her something I’d been feeling, she seemed to know what that feeling was. It made me seem almost… normal.


When I got home, the apartment was dark and quiet, and of course my father was asleep. I came in on my tiptoes, even though it’s pretty hard to wake him after he’s taken his sleeping pill. You’d almost have to be trying. But I was careful all the same.

I looked at myself in my bathroom mirror. I wanted to look at myself the way someone else would look at me. I wanted to see what she saw.

I discovered something strange about myself in that moment. The moment I caught my own eyes in the mirror, I looked away. It was hard to force myself to look at myself. I wasn’t bad to look at. It wasn’t that. I wasn’t the handsomest guy in the world, but I wasn’t ugly. I guess I thought I looked fine. But it was almost as though I’d never really looked into my own eyes before. Like it was as hard to look at myself as it was to look at somebody else. And I wasn’t sure what that meant. Unless it meant I was the kind of dog who didn’t even want to challenge myself.

In the morning, I came to the breakfast table, and my father was staring at me. Taking my emotional temperature, as I like to put it. He only looked away once, to look at his watch. That was his way of telling me I’d slept too long. If he only knew.

Then he went back to scrutinizing me again.

I hate that. It makes me feel like I guess a worm must feel when some fisherman is about to stick him on a hook. Like you want to get away, but there’s no way to get away, so you just squirm. It’s no use, but you do it anyway.

He said, “Good morning, Sebastian.”

I said, “Good morning, Father.”

I know how weird that sounds, but that’s what I have to call him. He’s not into any of that “Dad” or “Pop” stuff. I’m Sebastian, all three syllables every time, and he’s Father. And that’s not negotiable. That is one of any number of things that are not negotiable.

He was wearing his glasses at the table, his weird little round wire-rimmed glasses. All the better to stare at me, I suppose. And some of his hair was spilling down over his forehead. His hair was curly and a little unruly, like mine, but gray. Suddenly, it seemed. Almost as if every morning you could see how much grayer it was than the day before.

And he was still studying me. It was as if he could see that something had changed in me. It was horrifying.

“What?” I said, finally, when I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You seem different.”

“I don’t feel different,” I said. Lying.

“You seem different.”

“Different how?”

“I’m not sure. Like you were happy or excited about something.”

Ah, yes. That. The sin of being happy or excited. According to my father, we must guard carefully against such things. According to my father, these emotions are the equivalent of dancing on our fifth-floor window ledge. Clearly inviting a nasty fall.

“Well, I’m not,” I said. Hoping that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

“I think you’re taking too much sleep,” he said.

“Sleep is good for you. You can tell because I’ve been so healthy. Think how long it’s been since I’ve been sick. It’s the running, if you ask me, and plenty of sleep.”

“There’s still such a thing as too much.”

I shifted tactics in mid-stream. “I was up late last night. I couldn’t sleep. Didn’t get to sleep until after three. That’s why I slept in.”

At first he said nothing. But I could tell by his mood that he wasn’t done. You could feel it shifting around in him. You can always tell when he’s mixing up another batch of something. But for a while he just stirred his bowl of cereal with a spoon. I remember thinking it must be getting really soggy.

Then he said, “What do you do? When you can’t sleep?”

“I don’t know. Just lie there.”

“And do what?”

“I don’t know. Think, I guess.”

“What do you think about?”

I wanted to jump into that. I always want to jump him when he does that. It makes me want to attack. Not physically; I’m not like that. Attack verbally, the way he does with me. It makes me crazy when he tries to get inside my head. The only place I have left. But it never helps to rise up against him like that. It just never does any good.

“I don’t remember,” I said.

The face of the woman on the subway came into my head, fully formed, perfect. A perfect recollection. I wondered if I would ever see her again. I couldn’t have imagined at that moment that I would.

I finished my lessons by 1:00 p.m., and went out for my run. My father frowned, the way he always did when I left the apartment to run. But he said nothing anymore. This point, at least, I had permanently won.

The whole time I was running, mostly in the park, I thought, Please let Delilah be there today. Please. It was like a chant that kept me going.

As I turned the final corner, I looked up at our building and there she was. Three floors up, hanging half out her window, waving at me. I smiled without even meaning to. Out loud but quietly, I said, “Thank you,” and then realized I didn’t even know who I was talking to.

I waited by the outside door, panting, for a few minutes, and then she hobbled down, and I held the door for her. She said what she always said.
“Thank you, child.”

It’s hard for her to get through the door without help. She has a bad hip, or maybe it’s both of them, and she’s very big, and walks with a cane. So getting through the door is hard unless somebody else holds it. Something about her hips or her back pushes the top of her body forward, so she looks like some kind of punctuation mark, though I’m not sure which one. Maybe a question mark that doesn’t really curve around all the way on top. And she walks with her huge back end kind of trailing in a noticeable way. But I’m not criticizing. She’s the best friend I have. She’s the best friend I’ve ever had. Maybe it seems weird we could be friends when she’s over fifty and I’m under eighteen. But we manage just fine.

We started off on our walk together. I had to remember to walk about twelve times slower than I would on my own.

Delilah took her little portable fan out of her pocket. A little plastic rocket of a fan, bright blue, with little blades like a miniature helicopter. She had to turn it on with her left hand, because she needed to lean on the cane with her right. The blades opened up like a flower and I could hear the buzz as they started to spin, and she trained the breeze onto her face and sighed.

“This weather, child,” she said. “Good Lord, this heat.”

She had a wonderful face, Delilah. Light-skinned black with freckles on her cheeks, and eyes the color of walnut shells, and the biggest teeth you ever saw in your life, so that when she smiled it seemed to take up her whole face. It was fun to make her smile, just to see it again. And it wasn’t hard, either. Lots of things made Delilah smile.

“So,” she said. “Where does that father of yours think you are right now?”

I looked down at the sidewalk and didn’t answer.

“So you still haven’t seen fit to tell him you made a friend.”

“You don’t know how he is,” I said. “You don’t know him.”

“Not sure I got a yen to. Not sure what I think of a man doesn’t want his own boy to have a single friend.”

Meet the Author

Catherine Ryan Hyde, an acclaimed novelist and award-winning short-story writer, is the author of the story collection Earthquake Weather and of the novels Love in the Present Tense, Walter's Purple Heart, Funerals for Horses, Electric God, and Pay It Forward, which was named an ALA Book of the Year and made into a feature film. She lives in Cambria, California. Her website is

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Chasing Windmills 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Seventeen-year-old Sebastian sneaks out at night. His domineering father home-schools him, makes decisions for him, and keeps an eye on him every minute of every day. Sebastian knows that only the nights are his after his father takes his sleeping pill.

Maria is a young mother of two, living with an abusive boyfriend. She is riding the subway because she is too afraid to admit to Carl that she has lost her job. She knows it can't go on forever, but once she meets Sebastian it becomes impossible to imagine life without him.

They met late one night on the subway. They exchanged glances and shy smiles, and finally they began to talk.

Once Sebastian begins to see the real world, he begins to question how his father has raised him. His only friend, an old woman living in a neighboring apartment, gives him the love his father never shows. With her encouragement, he makes a plan to escape from his father and take Maria with him. He contacts the maternal grandmother he barely remembers and learns his father has not just sheltered him, but also lied to him. His mother didn't die. She is alive and well in the Mojave Desert where he is welcome anytime.

Author Catherine Ryan Hyde tells the story of Sebastian and Maria in alternating chapters. The fear and pain of their loveless lives screams from the pages. I found myself feeling the absence of one when the chapter I was reading focused on the other. Even though CHASING WINDMILLS somewhat parallels several famous love stories of the past, it has its own unique voice and interpretation. It will most certainly touch your heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Imagine a seventeen-year-old so controlled by his father that he's not allowed a single friend, a young mother so cowed by her boyfriend that her only freedom is riding the subway. But we're often smarter, and more seditious, than our captors. Catherine Ryan Hyde explores this phenomenon in her latest coming-of-age novel, Chasing Windmills. Told in the alternating¿and often haunting¿voices of Sebastian and Maria, the couple ride the subway night after night, becoming more and more attracted to each other. They decide to flee to his grandmother's place in the Mojave Desert where giant energy-producing windmills dominate the landscape. The lovers need and deserve some luck, and for a while, they're able to keep the wind at their backs. A complication develops Maria neglects to tell Sebastian about her kids. But Sebastian is pragmatic and the couple seem to find the right people when they need them. Sebastian's secret friend and Maria's sister give much needed help in New York. His California relatives offer shelter and the benefit of their own life experience. As with her protagonists, Ryan Hyde's portrayal of these secondary characters is spot-on. An unexpected twist leads to an ending that is both surprising and satisfying. Chasing Windmills is a poignant 'tough love' story with heart as big as the Mojave.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
One fateful night, a young man and woman meet on the subway. Few words are exchanged, yet a powerful connection is forged. Each is trying to escape their life, the boy Sebastian from a controlling father and the woman Maria from her controlling boyfriend. But the first time their eyes meet, they fall in love. Their nightly subway rides provide refuge from their unsatisfying lives, and soon a dream is born: Maria and Sebastian, now nicknamed Tony, plan to move to the Mojave Desert to start a new life. But Maria hasn't told Tony/Sebastian about her history, complicating their lives even farther. But their plans have already been made, and Maria feels compelled to follow through. Chasing Windmills is a beautiful retelling of West Side Story, although a much more hopeful one. I really fell in love with this story, especially the strong connection between Maria and Sebastian. Their bond was so strong that even though they didn't really know each other that well, they could predict each other's thoughts. Both Maria and Sebastian were well-developed characters and I sometimes felt I was inside their heads the story was that realistic. I really enjoyed how Chasing Windmills was more optimistic than West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet and the self journeys Maria and Sebastian went through. The story was truly unforgettable and I had a hard time putting the book down. I definitely recommend it, especially to fans of unique love stories, and I look forward to reading more of the talented Catherine Ryan Hyde's novels.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At age seven, Sebastian¿s dad told him his mother Cecilia was dead. From age seven to seventeen the only contact Sebastian had with people was with doctors. At age seventeen, home schooled Sebastian befriends Delilah, an elderly neighbor. On a walk Delilah asks where is your mother. Sebastian told her she was dead. Delilah asked Sebastian about his grandparents. He told her the only living grandparent he has is his mother¿s mother who was crazy because she won¿t accept her daughter death. Delilah becomes suspicious and tells Sebastian to contact his Grandmother and he does. Maria meets Carl in high school and after graduation she moves in with him and gives birth to a son and a daughter. Carl beats her. Her sister Stella tells her to grow some backbone and leave him. Victor, Stella¿s husband backs her up. Maria doesn¿t leave until the beating Carl gives her puts her in the hospital. Sebastian and Maria meet on the subway they ride at night to escape their pitiful lives. They become friends and run away together, life takes on a new meaning. Just when I thought I knew how it would end, Chasing Windmills ended with a twist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I simply couldn't put down Catherine Ryan Hyde's Chasing Windmills. It's a terrific 'coming of age' story, a wonderful addition to any avid reader's library and definitely for every young adult reader. The main characters, Maria and Sebastian, are so well drawn and believable, and the book is filled with down to earth characters, like people we know or have known--the good and the bad. The story, told in alternating points of view, Maria's and Sebastian's, allows the reader direct access into their hearts and souls. The West Side Story subtext is also tremendously effective and the urban and desert setting so accurate. If you loved Catherine's previous novels, especially Pay it Forward, Walter's Purple Heart, Becoming Chloe, or even if you're not familiar with her work, this is the book to read. If there were ten stars allowed, I'd add them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's not often that I'm so compelled to write a review of a book I've read as I am with 'Chasing Windmills.' Hyde, author of several of my favorite adult and young adult novels, has hit a pitch-perfect emotional note with this, her latest story. With each successive novel, Hyde creates an increasingly rich emotional backdrop against which she displays her true talent: drawing characters that are at once simple in their honesty and their flaws, and tremendously complex in the situations and emotional intensity their choices push them into. It's exciting to see a skilled writer continue to grow into her craft, as Hyde does with style and a deft heart in 'Windmills.' Like 'Love in the Present Tense,' we're presented with characters who have been marginalized in their own lives, and whom are inevitably drawn to one another with sometimes disastrous results. Using the story of Romeo and Juliet, and subsequently the characters in 'West Side Story' as the melody around which Hyde constructs her word symphony, 'Windmills' hits its stride about a quarter of the way in and does not slow down until the very last page. Not only was I forced to stop several times so that I could absorb the complex beauty of the story and the writing, but found myself returning to several chapters to re-read them so as not to miss a single thing. More than once, 'Windmills' brought tears to my eyes. Hyde is an unfailing expert at creating a story that immediately resonates on every level, hits every emotional button, and makes me feel like a better person having read her writing. 'Chasing Windmills' goes on my top ten list of favorite reads.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Med cat and sick cats sleeps here. Hergs are sogred here.