Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review: Where We Belong

After re-reading some of my other Emily Giffin favorites, I finally got to sit down and read her new relase, Where We Belong.  It has been an All-Emily Giffin August for me thus far, as this is my fourth of her works this month.  (But I'm pretty sure I'm going to be able to squeeze in one more book by a different author by the end of the month.)

I was very excited to pick up Where We Belong, first because I love Giffin's writing, and second because this book dealt with a very different topic than her previous works.  Her previous novels have focused primarily on romantic relationships, with side storylines delving into friendships.  This new book, however, tells the story of a mother and the daughter she gave up for adoption.

When Marian Caldwell was 18, she looked forward to a perfect life--college, then grad school, then a career in television production, all peppered with wealth and perfect relationships.  But in the summer between high school and college, she falls in love with Conrad Knight.  Conrad isn't from "her world" of college-bound high-achievers.  He's a musician, who thinks and feels things deeply, and he's not planning on any kind of higher education.  They have an unspoken understanding that as much as they may care for each other, they both understand that their relationship can only endure for the summer.

But then Marian misses her period.  Conrad swears that he will love and support her, no matter what.  She takes a pregnancy test.... and it's positive.  But in a split-second, gut-instinct decision, she lies to Conrad and tells him that it's negative.  Later that day, she breaks up with him.  She then goes on to ignore his phonecalls, thus severing any contact with him.

She confesses the truth to her mother but swears her to secrecy, even from her own father (who yes, is still married to her mother).  She plans to get an abortion.... but once she's on the table in the clinic, she can't go through with it.  She decides to give the baby up for adoption instead.  So she defers her college admission for a year and goes to live at her family's lake cottage, where she endures her pregnancy in complete secrecy, except for occassional visits from her mother.  She gives birth to a baby girl on April Fool's Day and gives her up for adoption three days later.  Then she continues on with her original life plan, attending college, then grad school, then becoming a successful television producer, all without ever telling her father, the baby's father, or anyone else that the child exists.  She thinks of the baby frequently over the years, but she keeps her secret, intent on achieving that perfect life she dreamed of.

Now Marian is 36 years old, living in New York City.  Her life does look perfect.  She has a beautiful penthouse apartment, a successful television series, and a handsome, wealthy boyfriend.  She wants to get married and have children, but he's hesitating.

On the same night that Marian and her boyfriend have a fight about his unwillingness to commit, 18-year-old Kirby Rose shows up on Marian's doorstep: the daughter that she has kept a secret for all these years.

After meeting Kirby, Marian's certainties begin to unravel.  She recognizes that giving Kirby up for adoption was the best thing for Kirby.... but was it the best thing for her?  Is her life really all that she wants it to be?  What harm has she done to herself, her daughter, Conrad, and all of her other relationships by keeping Kirby's birth a secret?  And can those relationships ever be repaired?

The narration in this book switches back and forth between Marian and Kirby.  As is typical with my reactions to Emily Giffin novels, I didn't particularly love either character.  (I did kind of love Conrad, but he's pretty one-dimensional.)  Yet I did love the story, in which both women explored where they "belonged" in the world.  The ending left me aching for a sequel, in which I could make sure that both of them ended up in healthy, happy relationships--yet a sequel of that nature would really spoil the original story, where relationships are shown to be something that must be built carefully over time.

The back of the book includes some blurbs from professional reviews that I felt really described my feelings on Giffin.  People magazine said, "Giffin's talent lies in taking relatable situations and injecting enough with and suspense to make them feel fresh."  True--while the storyline was far from unique, the characters' lives and reactions still captivated me.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "Giffin excels at creating complex characters and stories that ask us to explore what we really want from our lives."  Also true--while I haven't particularly loved any of Giffin's characters (or the situations in which they find themselves), I just can't seem to stop reading her works, because they all leave me with such interesting contemplations on what the "right" choices are, both for the characters and for myself.  If you're a fan of Giffin, I definitely recommend this book, particularly as an interesting departure from her usual topics.

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