Long and Short Reviews welcomes Maddie Dawson, whose latest book The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, releases today. Leave a comment or ask the author a question for a chance to win a copy of the book. See our review here.
by Maddie Dawson
She ached for the whole experience that so many of us take for granted: to know our birth story.
One day she actually found her birth mother and wrote her a letter, asking if they could talk on the phone. And her mother called her! They had a giddy, excited phone call, weeping at their surprise at finding one another. They agreed to meet.
But the mother didn’t show up.
I got that prickly, goose-bump feeling that a novel was nearby, and slowly, a character came into my head—a younger, fictional character named Nina—who had that same longing to know who her birth parents had been and who felt she had been thrown away.
I talked to other adoptees, people who said they’d had good lives and that they didn’t care to know the people who’d given them away.
A novel always comes from what-if questions. What if, I wondered, Nina had a sister who didn’t want to know the past? What if these two sisters finally do come across their mother, and then she’s nothing like they pictured?
The story that unfolded is about how families can form from attachment instead of DNA, and how in the end, it’s the power of love that comes to save us all and show us we belong.
A woman’s quest to find her birth mother takes her in an unexpected direction. Nina Popkin always wondered where she came from, but after her adoptive mother’s death and her own recent divorce she feels more untethered to the world than usual. Before she died, Nina’s mother was only able to provide her with three clues regarding her origin: the names of the orphanage and a potentially helpful nun and an allusion to a mysterious photograph squirreled away somewhere in the house. Unfortunately for Nina, her adoption records are technically sealed, though Sister Germaine doesn’t exactly follow the rules. She finds out that she has a younger sister who was also given up for adoption, and the orphanage arranges a meeting. Turns out, Nina already knew her sister: they went to grammar school together. Though sharing her vibrant red hair, Nina’s sister, Lindy, does not share her enthusiasm for putting her birth family back together. After finding out more about her early days than she wanted to know, Lindy storms out of the office and Sister Germaine follows, leaving Nina alone with all her records. She learns both her mother’s name and the fact that she was only 15 when Nina was born. But from there, her mother’s story gets a bit more complicated: she had been moderately famous, the lead singer of a girl band in the ’80s. And when Nina decides to contact her, it appears at first that she wants nothing to do with the daughters she gave up so many years earlier. Told from the perspectives of Nina, Lindy, and their mother, Phoebe, the novel navigates their often twisting paths back to one another, as all the women realize that the bonds of family develop both by choice and by DNA.
Enjoy an Excerpt:
Last week he’d said to her, “We’ll get married when I finish college. We’ll have a lot of money, and we’ll make more babies,” and A.J., sitting beside them at the time, had snorted and given Phoebe that look again.
The guys pushed the car out of the O’Malleys’ garage so the engine noise wouldn’t wake Tilton’s parents.
“You have to drive,” Tilton whispered to her. “We’ll push while you pop the clutch.”
She stared at him, but he went in and out of focus.
“Can you do it, Pheebs?”
She got in carefully, ran her hands over the soft leather seats where they had made love so many times. It always smelled like money, this car.
“Do you hear me? Pop the clutch!”
The car was moving, and she slammed her foot on the pedal, and the engine roared to life, and in an instant the boys were piling into the car, sweating, laughing, slamming the doors, Tilton in her ear hissing, “Drive! Go! Go!”
She drove slowly, like she was maneuvering a parade float, but he was saying, “Go faster! Christ, there’s a car coming! Floor it!”
She looked at him, stunned by a miraculous thought. What if they simply . . . left town? Tonight! They could leave tonight! She felt like this thought had been traveling to her from across the universe for so long and had only now arrived, in the nick of time. They could run away! Yes, the three of them—they’d head to the beach and then keep on going, up to Maine, maybe to Canada. She’d arrange for Kate to come; Phoebe’s sister would gladly send her.
She said, “Tilty, listen,” and his eyes were looking directly into hers so deeply he might have been able to see where the hate and the hope were fighting to the death.
He said, “Baby, can you drive faster?” and there was a loud crash and bright, spinning lights, and screaming—so much screaming—and then it was as though somebody had pulled some giant power cord to the world or something, because everything just turned . . . off.
About the Author:
Maddie Dawson lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She’s the bestselling author of four previous novels: The Opposite of Maybe, The Stuff That Never Happened, Kissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal. Her fifth novel The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, will be published on October 25th by Lake Union.