Friday, November 4, 2016

The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness

Title:  The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness
Author:  Maddie Dawson
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1503939103 / 978-1503939103

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "So, he was really, really leaving, like his parents had told him he had to, and even though she already knew he wouldn't stand up to them, she had held out the tiniest bit of hope that something would happen and there would be a reprieve."

Favorite Quote:  "and you have to make your own life. Every day you get to start over anyway, work on your own story."

The family we are born to is a part of us; their genetics defines part of who we are. The family we choose to surround ourselves with is also a part of us; their love sustains us and helps us become who we are. As much as our family is part of us, we are and choose to be a part of them. That, to me, is the message of the this book.

Nina Popkin is lost. She has survived a breakup. She has just lost her beloved mother. Her mother did not give birth to her, but was her mother in every respect. Nina is lost without people she calls family. Her loss and her need for family sets her on a path to discover her birth mother. Along the way, she discover an entire other family she never knew existed for her. Her need to belong and be part of a whole drives her, but do the people she meets have the same need? Lindy is Nina's biological sister, but she has a family. Phoebe Mullen is Nina's biological mother, but she left the people she loved and the sad circumstances of her past far behind. Do they need her in their family, regardless of the biological ties that may bind them? Is it biology or caring that defines family?

The book moves through the perspective of all three women. For each, it's a look into the past and the family that was created through biology. For each, it's also about moving forward. Nina meets a man and becomes part of his life and the lives of his children. Lindy has a husband and children who surround her. Phoebe ultimately comes face to face with the decisions of her past, and the pieces of her history that were beautiful and joyful. Through it all is also the story of adoption through the eyes of a young mother and the children put up for adoption.

What I find most interesting about the book is the contrasts between Nina and Lindy. Nina is desperate for family, while Lindy is ensconced in the heart of hers. Nina learns one fact and imagines how a lifetime going to go, while Lindy learns one fact and then retreats to her own world. Nina wants to be best friends, while Lindy wants to walk away. Nina is the main focus of the book, but Lindy is the more interesting one, perhaps because her story is not told. Why does she count the way she does? How does she find her way through a stagnating marriage and a supposed social circle where she does not fit in? I kind of wish I found out more about her.

Maddie Dawson's book The Opposite of Maybe explored the question of relationships and love and the myriad forms that can take. This book applies the same approach to families - the different forms they can take from our biological families to the families we choose. The book is a quick and easy read. It comes with the tears and joys that come along with a family patched together with love and friendship and leaves me thinking about what it means to be family.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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