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