“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 fear are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.” — Summary from Goodreads
Far From the Tree is a book that I put on my Christmas wishlist on a whim. After glancing over the summary and seeing the ratings and beautiful cover, I decided to add it to my TBR. When I picked it up, I wasn’t expecting to stay up all night until I finished it. I wasn’t expecting to become so attached to the characters as the story went on. Most of all, I wasn’t expecting to read such a beautifully written, tear-jerking YA novel based on family.
I’ve said it once before, and I’ll say it again: there are few young adult books that realistically represent and ultimately focus on family. It seems like in most contemporary novels, the family is the side plot or ignored altogether. Not in Far From the Tree. Robin Benway constructs a beautiful scenario to showcase three–albeit different–realistic families. She was able to incorporate several real-life occurrences–teen pregnancy, alcoholism, divorce, adoption–and fold them into a story where they didn’t feel cliche but genuine.
The three main characters–Grace, Maya, and Joaquin–all have hardships they have had to deal with in their life. When Grace puts her own baby up for adoption, she learns that she has two biological siblings, so she begins to reach out to them. The reader gets to see the relationship between these siblings grow from the awkward initial conversations to the vulnerable and open cry-sessions. Watching these bonds form is my favorite aspect of the book; at one point Joaquin stands up for his Grace, and it is one of the sweetest scenes I have ever read.
The topic of adoption is also handled very well by Benway in Far From the Tree. We get to see Grace’s perspective after giving up Peach as well as her determination to find her birth mother. On the other side, we see Maya and Joaquin’s frustration and anger toward their biological mother for giving them up in the first place. Adoption has had a different impact on all three of the kids. Maya feels like she doesn’t belong in her own family while Joaquin is having trouble accepting that a family can love him after he spent his life in foster care.
Overall, this was an absolutely fantastic read. I finished it at the end of 2017, and it easily became of my favorites of the year if not one of my new favorite contemporaries ever. I adore the focus on the family. While each character has their own side story that may include romance, the relationships that are focused on are the ones within families. Far From the Tree will make you laugh and cry (and then cry some more). Even after some thought, I don’t think there is any flaw in this book or anything that I would want to change. It is perfect the way it is.