Sunday, December 24, 2017

Book Review: "Far from the Tree" by Robin Benway

This book...

Robin Benway's Far from the Tree recently won the National Book Award. It's a beautiful, thought-provoking tearjerker of a book, a meditation about family and its different forms, as well as the fears we don't share with those we love, and how what we don't say is often more of a roadblock than the things we do.

At times this book had me like:

While at other times it had me like:

Grace is an only child, although she's always known that she was adopted. But shortly after she gives birth to her own daughter while she's still in high school, and gives the baby up for adoption, she decides that it's time to start looking for her biological mother. She more than surprised to find out from her parents that Grace had two biological siblings—an older brother, Joaquin, and a younger sister, Maya, whom she never knew existed.

Maya is tremendously outspoken about everything, perhaps because she's the lone brunette in a house full of redheads. Her adopted parents' marriage is floundering, her mother has a drinking problem, and she's always felt the outsider in her family, since her younger sister was born shortly after her parents adopted her. She's not sure what she hopes to find in her biological siblings, but she hopes it brings her security.

While Grace and Maya were adopted as babies, Joaquin has spent his life in and out of foster families. Even the times he let his guard and his heart down, he ultimately was disappointed and hurt, so he's determined not to let that happen again, even when the situation looks promising. More than anything, he's afraid that he believes he can hurt the people who care about him, so he's afraid to let anyone get too close, even Grace and Maya.

Each of the siblings has their emotional wounds and their secrets, which poses challenges for their relationship but also demonstrates just how much they have in common. Beyond their mutual love of eating their French fries with mayonnaise, and their similar physical characteristics, the three share the fear of telling the people they care about the truth, about letting them see all of their problems, which has resulted in friction with others in their lives. But little by little, they let their walls down with one another and try to help each other face those fears—which is far easier said than done.

"Maya wondered if it would ever be like this with Grace and Joaquin, the ability to just sit quietly side by side, content in the knowledge that no matter what happened with your parents, or your girlfriend, that your siblings will still be there, like a bookend that keeps you upright when you feel like toppling over."

There is a lot of emotional upheaval in this book, as the siblings deal with their own issues as well as search for their biological mother. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I'll admit I found their inability to verbalize the things they were afraid of/angry about tremendously frustrating. I know this was a realistic depiction of how people, particularly teenagers, often handle their problems, but to have it be the case with three people at the same time was a bit bothersome.

Beyond wanting to shake the characters so they'd finally say what needed to be said, I really enjoyed this book and was tremendously moved by it. It was a very real reminder about the fears and anxieties adopted children and children in the foster care system face, and it also demonstrated how feeling like you belong for the first time can truly make a difference.

This is a really well-written book. Benway had an ear for dialogue that was on-target for teenagers without making them sound so much wiser and more sarcastic than their years. I'm always a big fan of books which make me feel while they make me think, which is why I definitely recommend Far from the Tree.

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