Far From the Tree, by Robin Benway
Publish Date: October 3, 2017
Published by: HarperTeen
Genre: YA Fiction
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5 out of 5 stars)
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.
In all honesty, if I had just read the synopsis on this book, I probably never would have picked it up. It’s just not my normal cup of tea. But I had come across a sample of the first chapter it in a booklet I had gotten at an event somewhere (I think the BN B-Fest), and that sample alone just wouldn’t get out of my head. So when it came time for my reading mood to go “man, I need a contemporary”, I thought that this one should be it.
For this review I am going to split it up into two viewpoints: a critical one and a personal one, because that’s the only way I think I can do it.
In short, this book is well written. The characters are diverse and realistic, with flaws that are defiantly human and character arcs that make sense to who they are as presented from the start. The writing draws the reader in easily from the start, and retains the attention throughout without ever losing steam. In the beginning, it does feel a bit like there isn’t a lot of movement in terms of an overall storyline arc, with only one character, Grace, having a personal goal – to find her birth mother. The other two just sort of…exist for a bit until their storylines start to take shape and their personal issues grow and changes come into their lives that they have to overcome. So for a while it felt like nothing was really happening while the characters (and the reader) were just kind of getting to know one another. Which is fine, but again, I felt like I needed a little bit more, and not just the small hints that were given here and there.
I just felt very little emotional connection to the characters and this book overall. This is not a statement about the quality of the book – I can certainly see a lot of people enjoying it and loving it much more than I do – I just don’t think I really connected with any of the characters. Grace’s storyline, the one that drew me to this book in the first place, was kind of the only one I ever had any really interest in, and Joaquin’s garnered some of my attention too. But Maya’s I could have cared less about. I don’t know why, it just didn’t click with me for some reason. Maybe because it was such a typical storyline I’ve seen before so often – fighting parents, alcoholic mom – that there wasn’t really anything I didn’t already expect from it to happen. So, sadly, I just didn’t find myself really caring either in a positive or negative way about this book while reading it. I felt like at any point I could have stopped and never really needed to pick it back up because I had no pressing desire to know what was going to happen next.
Still, despite my semi-indifference towards this story and these characters, I will admit to getting emotional at the end (although not as emotional as these characters who really cry an awful lot), and I did think their overall character and story arcs were wonderfully done. The story, like I said, was well written (okay there were a couple of times I thought the randomly thrown in metaphors and allegories were a little overdone), moved at a decent pace, and definitely has a lot to say about the importance of family and what it means to be one. Despite the fact that I personally didn’t feel completely enthralled by this book, I would still probably end up recommending it to people depending on their taste.