“Far From the Tree” by Robin Benway
The book opens with Grace, 16 years old, who is giving up her own baby for adoption, just as her mother had given her up. Grace has gone through an agency and carefully chosen the family who will give Peach—as she calls the baby—a good life. Still she’s left with a painful, hollow spot in her body and psyche. Her adoptive parents to whom she’s an only child are terrific—warm and smart. Grace steels herself to return to school after the birth and is met by merciless taunts. She decides she will find her siblings, and maybe her mother.
Grace finds Maya who was adopted by parents who, classically, got pregnant once they cared for their adopted infant. So Maya has a sister, Lauren, 13 months younger than she with red hair like both her parents. Maya looks like the odd man out with black hair.
She is gay, which is a badge of honor to her liberal parents, which amazes the other siblings once they discover this. The bad news is, Maya’s parents are splitting up. In her confusion, Maya sabotages her relationship with girlfriend Claire. Maya protects herself with sarcasm, but she is also wise. “Maya had never realized how much power there was in loving someone. At first, she thought it was a source of strength, but she was realizing that, in the wrong hands, on the wrong day, that power was strong enough to destroy the very thing that had built it.”
Joaquin – the oldest at 17 has been in the foster system since his mother gave him up as a toddler. Twice he’d been adopted, but each adoption was short-lived, which of course is devastating.
When Maya reports that her parents put a rainbow sticker on their car, “Joaquin couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to swing with that kind of net waiting to catch you.” One foster mom found out Joaquin’s foster sister was gay and kicked her out. “Bio always trumps foster.” In another home the bio son decided which fosters would stay. Joaquin was out in a month.
Joaquin has good foster parents now, in fact they want to adopt him, but it’s his decision and he’s saying no. “To call Linda and Mark Mom and Dad on purpose would mean that Joaquin’s heart would form into something much more fragile, something impossible to put back together if it broke, and he could not—would not—do that to himself again.”
He breaks up with his girlfriend Birdie. She is confident, has life-plans and expects the world. And he’ll never be able to give it to her. No discussion, he just ends it. She’s furious, hurt, confused. But Joaquin is shamed by a violent act he committed years ago. We wait till the end to find out what he’d done.
This beautiful story of family and love is the National Book Award Winner for Young Readers—a wonderful read for adults as well as young adults.
Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker talesforallages.com