* update* Far From the Tree just won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Congratulations, Robin Benway!
I can’t imagine being forced with the decision to give up my baby at age sixteen, especially while said baby is being delivered the night the father is being crowned Prom King. But that is exactly what Grace has to do. She’s cared for Peach for nine months, carefully picked out a loving couple for her, and gave her up to them. Just like that. She’s not emotionally prepared for the hole this leaves in her heart, nor the emotion it stirs up about her own adoption. Why did her mother give her up? Was she just like Peach or was it something else? Her adoptive family has been nothing but loving and kind, and when she asks about finding her birth mother, they support her. What she isn’t prepared for is the knowledge that she has two other siblings. An older brother, Joaquin, and younger sister, Maya. Being raised as an only child, Grace is floored. Trying to handle this information along with Peach and seeing her ex-boyfriend, going back to school is like an open wound. While sobbing in the bathroom, she meets Rafe. He’s new to the school and knows nothing about her and the two become friends. Something she desperately needs right now.
Maya was adopted as a baby into a family of redheads. The reminder that she is adopted is present in the hundreds of family pictures in which her dark mane of hair contrasts with the red, so much so, that she can’t help but wonder where she belongs. Her family adopted her and then quickly found out they were having a baby of their own, another daughter. Maya knows her family loves her but doesn’t understand why they never read any parenting books that didn’t have the word “adoptive child” or “adoption” in them. Her anxiety over this, even though she’s been there since she was born, is always in the back of her head. Now, that her parents are getting a divorce, she wonders if she’s next to leave. Her girlfriend Claire, is her sounding board and she loves her, but just as she is doing with her family, she feels herself pushing her away too.
Joaquin was the boy who never got adopted. At age seventeen, he’s seen the inside of many foster homes, some good, some bad. He’s lived at his current home for almost two years and knows this could be the family he’s looking for, especially since they just told him they want to adopt him. But he knows there is no happily ever after for him, and if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Which is one of the reasons he just broke up with Birdie, the best thing that’s ever happened to him. He just can’t bear to let her down, so why not end it before he does?
The three siblings each have their own secrets, but when they start meeting every Sunday, it’s clear they also want to talk without really talking. They reluctantly open up about their families, love lives, and eventually their secrets. These were my favorite parts of the story, the ones where they suddenly realize they aren’t alone, that someone else is just like them. Not only do you look like them and share an affinity for dipping fries in mayonnaise, but you share the same fears and dreams. This hope propels them into agreeing, somewhat reluctantly, to search for their birth mother. Grace is hoping this will ease her own worries about giving up Peach. Joaquin just wants to know where he comes from, and Maya needs the closure so she can finally be a part of her own family instead of pushing them away. Wonderfully told, full of hope, and understanding the true meaning of family- these three siblings go through a lot to get to this point and thankfully, it’s worth it.