Free Meeker is exactly that, free. She's 19, pregnant, and sailing down an Oregon highway. With her is Lydia, a hitchhiker. The girls have just started talking when Free's car becomes one of 52 in a horrible pile-up.

Free comes through, dazed but okay, and not Lydia. Free takes her bag and looks for help but the area is literally a disaster area. The papers end up listing Lydia as the survivor, Free as the corpse.

In some ways, this may be a blessing. Legally dead, she need never look back. However, when she opens Lydia's bag, she discovers it contains almost a million dollars. Free's past may not catch up to her but Lydia's surely will. There are dangerous people looking for this money, people far more deadly than any car crash.

The tension in LEARNING TO FLY is minimal but the story is an easy one to get hooked on. Although Free is rather bland, her plight is intriguing and will keep you turning the pages. (May, 288 pp., $23.95)

Reviewed by: 
Toby Bromberg