Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Happy New Year! It's the Year of the Dog in Japan. Mine likes to join me on my cross country skis (photo by my son). With sub zero temperatures and another blizzard (9-12 inches with 45 mph gusts) due tomorrow, this is good reading weather.

While warming up by the fire, I enjoyed Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, which won the National Book Award in 2017. This well-crafted young adult novel shows the racial and gender based inequities of fostering and adoption in the USA, but it still manages to be a feel-good book full of hope.

After giving up her baby for adoption, sixteen-year-old Grace decides to look for her own birth mother and discovers that she has two half siblings. Wealthy Maya was also adopted as a baby into a loving but troubled family. Their half Mexican brother, Joaquin, had a harder time than his white sisters and bounced around foster homes for years. Together they redefine and expand the meaning of family. I loved the close bonds that formed among the siblings.

This simile was my favorite: "...the ability to sit quietly side by side, content in the knowledge that no matter what happened to your parents, or your girlfriend, that your siblings will be there, like a bookend that keeps you upright when you feel like toppling over." By comparison, the family tree metaphor of the title was less original and a bit overworked.

Of the three perspectives, Joaquin's was the most compelling. I probably would have prefered a book centered on him, but I often have that issue with multiple point-of-view books. I would still recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys heartwarming family stories with diverse characters. You should also check out my list of Best Contemporary YA of 2017. Thanks, Barrie, for recommending this novel to me and for hosting the book review club.

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@Barrie Summy

My resolution for 2017 was to write the first draft of the young adult novel I researched in Japan. The manuscript is going to two crit partners later this week, and there will be many more drafts and beta/sensitivity readers (including my Japanese American niece) before I give the manuscript to my agent, which is my writing resolution for 2018. Also, I'd like to learn more Japanese, and I will remain politically active since Maine is a swing state. What are your resolutions?


pattinase (abbott) said...

Good luck with your book. My resolution is to finish this third novel. Only 60 pages in but it's going okay. Thanks for the review.

Barrie said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Far From the Tree, Sarah. I understand what you're saying about multi-POV stories. Although, for me, Grace's was most compelling POV, and I liked that she was more the driving force. I also like the variety of parenting styles in this book. Good luck with your NY resolutions! Thank you for reviewing.

Stacy said...

I will have to find this novel, but I'm not sure if I will buy it for me or one of the stepdaughters (and then borrow it).

Jenn Jilks said...

Oooh, sounds a bit too close to home for me! I'm an adoptee. I met my half-sibs and birth mother. It didn't go well!

Jenn Jilks said...

P.S. My kitten loved the photo of you and your dog. Maybe it was more your dog, that he wanted to see closer!

troutbirder said...

Good luck with your writing venture. Multi ethnic and adoption stories touch very close to my interests and concerns so your review is spot on for me. My sons little "United Nations family includes both adopted and biological. Geographically and culturally speaking two North Dakotans, One Minnesotan, one Ethiopian, one Rwandan, and Twin Arizonians.... As to resolutions I'm working on improving my "redirect" skills and hope to improve my next year in my caretaker role...:)

Linda McLaughlin said...

Interesting review, Sarah. I hope you achieve all your 2018 writing goals.

Sarah Laurence said...

Patti, good luck with your novel!

Barrie, I suppose the advantage of a multiple point of view book is that different characters reach different readers. I did think it was important to have all 3 experiences included to show the range of experiences. Also good point on the range of parenting! I thought the book was great on that. It was very realistic and clearly well researched.

Stacy, it would be a good one to share with your step-daughters as I'm sure there are some parallels in parenting step-kids and foster kids.

Jenn, I'm sorry that meeting your biological family didn't go well. Your kitten must have known how much we love cats. Scout cuddles with the kitten at her kennel when we go away, although we don't have cats in our home.

troutbirder, you have the most wonderful family! Good luck with the caretaking. It must require so much patience. I hope you can take breaks.

Linda, thanks! It all depends on what my readers flag. Writing outside one's culture/nationality requires extra research and revision, but I enjoy it.

Donna said...

Happy new year! I agree that it's very good reading weather. I hope you're safe in the storm!

thecuecard said...

Ahhh this was the book you were telling me about on my site. Sounds quite compelling, that theme again!; I should get to it. Hope the snowstorm doesn't get too much there. Good luck with your goals & writing in 2018.

Powell River Books said...

Books for young adults sure have changed since my youth. All I remember was reading classics and horse books. Today we went out in the sun to read. We are on a mini-vacation to get away from the rain and clouds up north. - Margy

Rose said...

Great photo of you and Scout! Our Sophie is about the only one here who enjoys the snow and cold. I can't seem to get motivated to write a book review anymore, but if I were to, my favorite book of 2017 has to be "Beartown" by Fredric Backman. Highly recommend it!