Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. October 3, 2017. HarperTeen, 384 p. ISBN: 9780062330628. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 780.
A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.
Being the middle child has its ups and downs.
But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—
Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.
And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Teen pregnancy, References to child abuse
Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. Benway’s latest is the engrossing multi-POV story of Grace, Maya, and Joaquin. Instead of dancing the night away at Homecoming, Grace is instead in the hospital, in labor with the daughter she’s giving up for adoption. This life-changing moment leads her to find her biological siblings, Maya and Joaquin, and discover what contributed to their mother’s decision to give them up for adoption. Maya, the youngest, was adopted into a wealthy family, but her mother’s alcoholism creates tension. The eldest, Joaquin, has been in one foster home after another. At 18, he’s finally found a family, but his misapprehensions about relationships jeopardize his acceptance of their love and desire to finalize an adoption. Benway plumbs emotionally weighty material with grace and some beautiful moments of self-realization, particularly when it comes to Joaquin. While some readers might wish for a deeper exploration of the three siblings’ Mexican heritage and its disconnect from their adoptive families, the accessible writing and otherwise strong characterizations add to the story’s appeal. Hand to fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson.
Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2017)
Placing her daughter for adoption left a hole in Grace’s heart; her adoptive parents can’t fill it, and her birth mother’s unreachable—then Grace learns she has siblings. Maya, 15, a year younger than Grace, was adopted by wealthy parents 13 months before their biological daughter, Lauren, arrived. Joaquin, nearly 18, a survivor of 17 failed foster-care placements and one failed adoption, is troubled when his current foster parents express a wish to adopt him. Grace reaches out, and the siblings soon bond. All—Maya especially, standing out in a family of redheads—are grateful to meet others with dark hair (only Joaquin identifies not as white but Latino) and weird food preferences (French fries with mayo). Still, each keeps secrets. Maya discusses her girlfriend but not her mother’s secret drinking; Joaquin edits out his failed adoption; Grace, her pregnancy and daughter’s birth. It hurts that her siblings have zero interest in tracking down the mom who gave them away, yet Grace persists. Chapters alternate through their third-person perspectives, straightforward structure and syntax delivering accessibility without sacrificing nuance or complexity. Family issues are neither airbrushed nor oversimplified (as the ambiguous title suggests). These are multifaceted characters, shaped by upbringing as well as their genes, in complicated families. Absent birthparents matter, as do bio siblings: when their parents separate, Lauren fears Maya will abandon her for her “real” siblings. From the first page to the last, this compassionate, funny, moving, compulsively readable novel about what makes a family gets it right. (Fiction. 13-18)
About the Author
Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her latest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published on October 3, 2017 by Harper Teen.
Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing. Her website is www.robinbenway.com
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