Far from the Tree

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Far from the Tree Book Poster Image
Beautifully written story about finding your family.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the adoption process and the foster care system.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about what it means to be family (whether by birth or by choice) and why everyone needs people who are unconditionally on their side. Messages about the consequences of teen sex and pregnancy, and the importance of trusted adults and siblings.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Grace, Joaquin, and Maya persevere in difficult situations. They bond, help one another, and share things they aren't able to discuss with others. They're brave and compassionate, intelligent and talented. They want to belong to one another and to their individual families.


Grace punches a boy who's harassing her about having had a baby. Joaquin remembers having an abusive foster parent.


One character reflects upon the fact she got pregnant from one of her first sexual experiences. She realizes post-adoption that she's not ready for much more than holding hands with a boy. Another character wonders if her sibling is a virgin. She thinks about her own physical relationship with her girlfriend. An older brother mentions how passionate and in love he was with his ex-girlfriend.


Some chapters (and perspectives) have more cursing than others: "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bulls--t," "d--k," etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Maya's mother is an alcoholic who drinks in the daytime and nighttime and hides the wine bottles, but her kids still know. Joaquin recalls his time with an alcoholic foster father. Teens smoke a joint a couple of times.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Robin Benway's Far from the Tree is the 2017 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature. It's a realistic, contemporary novel about three adopted or foster-parented teens who discover that they're half-siblings and ultimately decide to look for their biological mother. Poignant and uplifting, the novel shows how the three newly acquainted siblings bond and feel in their respective home lives. Told from all three of their perspectives, the book highlights some heavy issues, such as teen pregnancy, foster care abuses, adoption, alcoholism, divorce, and trauma. Language depends on the chapter but occasionally includes "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "d--k," etc. There are also a few references to sex (and the consequences of unprotected sex), virginity, and romantic experience, but it's not graphic or inappropriate. The book is likely to be particularly emotional for teens who've experienced adoption or foster care, but it's a good choice for all teens who appreciate realistic fiction.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBooklover NYC July 15, 2018

Great provocative read for 13+

Gripping, provocative read for kids 13+
The book features three main characters, one of them a teen mother who gives her baby up for adoption. There's a li... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bybabcoben000 November 27, 2018

A very relatable adoption story

“Far From the Tree” starts out with Grace, a high school student, and a soon to be Mom. As you read, you soon come to find that Grace has been adopted. Being a... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bySummerincast June 27, 2020

Really beautiful

Grace, Joaquin and Maya are all adopted or in foster care but they don’t know that they are related until Grace decides to look into it once she puts her own ba... Continue reading

What's the story?

The 2017 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature, FAR FROM THE TREE, by Robin Benway, is a contemporary novel about three teen characters: Grace, Maya, and Joaquin, who discover they're siblings. After putting her baby up for adoption, 16-year-old Grace, an adopted only child, feels compelled to find her birth mother. Desperate to help Grace, her parents reveal that while they don't know where her mother is, they do know she has a biological older half-brother and younger sister. Grace searches for her biological family and finds 15-year-old Maya, a loud-mouthed brunette in a rich family of redheads, and Joaquin, who's almost 18. After years of living with sketchy foster families, he's finally with a loving and caring couple who want nothing more than to formally adopt him. As the three siblings develop a bond, they must decide whether to search for their biological mom.

Is it any good?

This is a poignant and powerful tale about three adopted teens separated by circumstance but brought together in love. Told in alternating points of view, Far from the Tree follows three teens with complicated relationships to their origin stories. Recovering from her pregnancy and putting up baby "Peach" for adoption, Grace feels a kinship to her own biological mother, even though she adores her adoptive parents. Maya knows she's privileged but she feels jealous that she's obviously different from her sister Lauren, who's roughly her age but her adoptive parents' biological child. Meanwhile, Joaquin wasn't as lucky as the sisters he'd never met. Half-Latino, he, unlike the girls, was never adopted and went from foster home to foster home. Finally with a couple who love him, Joaquin is so scared to lose them he's not sure he fully believes in unconditional love.

The way the trio of siblings bonds is believable, humorous, and also emotional to read. Their fast connection emboldens each of them to face their fears and overcome personal obstacles. Also in the mix is Rafe, a new friend of Grace's who cares about and supports her in a way none of her pre-Peach friends could. As they slowly, slowly build to a romance, it's clear Rafe (who's Latino, like Joaquin) is one of the best potential boyfriends in contemporary young adult literature. Author Robin Benway never idealizes any of the characters; they're each utterly authentic, and she explores the overwhelming positives to adoption but also the sadness and loss associated with it. A must-read for teens who enjoy realistic fiction, this award-winning novel is both heartbreaking and uplifting in the best ways.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the realistic fiction of Far from the Tree. How is this story, about some heavy themes, realistic? Do you prefer realistic or fantasy-based stories?

  • How does the book depict teen pregnancy and adoption? Do you think Grace's mixed and complicated emotions are accurate?

  • What are the book's messages about families and the many ways they form?

  • Are there any role models in the story? Who are they, and what are their character strengths?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adoption tales and books about families

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