As I read this young adult novel, I had no idea that it had won the National Book Award. All I knew was that I found the main characters compelling and that a few passages caused some serious tears. It felt like an “ABC After-School Special” (yes, I’m totally dating myself) done by a really skillful indie director.
Far from the Tree tells the story of three teenagers, all abandoned by the same mother, but ending up in three very different situations. As a baby, Grace is adopted by a middle-class family and is an only child. After she gives up her own baby for adoption, Grace becomes interested in finding her own mother, which is when her parents reveal that she has two half-siblings.
Maya is also adopted at a very young age but by a more well-off family and is not raised as an only child. Her younger sister, Lauren, is born about a year after Maya is adopted. Maya loves Lauren even as she feels like the odd one out in her family (a brunette in a sea of redheads). However, things are getting complicated at home as her parent’s fighting and her mom’s drinking grow worse each day.
Joaquin, the oldest, has a much more complex history. Bounced from foster home to foster home, ranging from fine to terrible, he almost finds an adoptive family but then tragedy strikes. Now, just as he is about to age out of the system, he has found foster parents that seem too good to be true—Mark and Linda.
The chapters alternate between the three siblings as they come together, begin to know each other, and decide to explore their shared history. Each sibling has a secret hurt that is slowly revealed but the process is not a smooth one. Though my cynical self felt that things might have fallen together a bit too neatly at the end, I can’t deny the feeling of satisfaction I had as I finished the book. It made me think about family, the foster care system, and feelings. What’s not to like.