FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway – Review by Kate Olson
Let’s be real here. I’m a 37-year-old school librarian – I am in NO WAY considered a young adult, right? So then, what makes this genre one in which I consider myself a qualified reviewer? I always find it fascinating that adults are the ones deciding which kidlit is quality or not, and in the library I see the disparity of kid-approved and adult-approved titles showcased every single day at the circulation desk. Circ numbers simply don’t lie. However, I do take it upon myself to read and review a massive volume of children’s literature through Goodreads, Instagram, and as a reviewer for School Library Journal and Kid Lit Exchange. In those reviews I always try to include whether I think books have immediate kid appeal or whether it will require extensive book talking and just the right kid to fall in love with it. Because that matters, right? Those adult-loved titles that we all buy and then watch languish on shelves make me want to cry!
Why all that preface to this review? Well, because I want you to know that I think I finally found the unicorn of YA books! The one that adults AND teens can absolutely fall in love with! The fact that it just won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is amazing because there definitely also tends to be a disparity in award winning titles being books I LOVE and books I appreciate. This is one I LOVE. It just came out in October and hasn’t had time to gain circulation numbers, so I can’t share proof of massive teen appeal, but I’m crossing my fingers that it will come through for me. And to be honest, even in my book reviewing world, this wasn’t one that I saw popping up everywhere pre-publication, so I think word just needs to get out. I have my librarian friend Laura Gardner to thank for making me grab this off my shelf (I had pre-ordered it after seeing it was a NBA-longlist title) and actually reading it last month – word of mouth is so important!
Okay, now about the actual book! And if you have any other “unicorn” YA titles, please do leave them in the comments! You can find the fabulous Robin Benway on Twitter at @robinbenway.
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
(Harper Teen – October 3, 2017)
BOOK DESCRIPTION (from publisher)
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.
It is incredibly rare that I come across a young adult title that I have such a visceral reaction to as an adult. And not just an “out of high school” adult, but as a middle aged mother. And while I definitely think this story will have young adult appeal, that’s not the only audience I will be shouting about this book to. I’ll be telling every parent I know to read it because it hits ALL the parenting feels. It not only touches on the very definition of parenthood and what it means to belong to a family, it brings up the “what if” that every single parent thinks about at some point……..what would I do if my child gets (or gets a girl) pregnant??? How would I react? This story hits on the experience of motherhood from all angles and induced SO MANY tears.
As for teens, they get all the feels too. There is adoption, the foster system, teen pregnancy, teen relationships, parents, siblings, ALL OF IT. The relationships are so well-written and the interactions between the young adult characters are raw and witty.
Required purchase for all high school libraries and required reading for parents. Moms will cry. Dads will cry. Adoptees will cry. Children in foster care will cry. Foster parents will cry. Pretty much anyone with a heart will at least THINK about crying.
Kate Olson is a PK-12 librarian in a small rural school district in Wisconsin, as well as a reviewer for School Library Journal and founder of Kid Lit Exchange. She lives on the top of a giant hill in the middle of nowhere with her family of humans and dogs. She can be found on her blog The Loud Library Lady and on Instagram as @theloudlibrarylady and Twitter as @theloud_library.