Monday, June 11, 2012
Book Review: "Where We Belong" by Emily Giffin
I was ecstatic to receive an advance copy of this book to review, because I really loved Emily Giffin's other two books I read. Well, I LIKED "Something Borrowed" but I did love "Something Blue," the follow up book...something about getting both sides of a story is satisfying. Also, it's not really both SIDES of a story, just two different perspectives, because whatever Giffin's faults may be, she seems to have a good grasp of empathy and why nothing in love and friendship and human relationships is as black and white as we sometimes make it out to be. I definitely loved that aspect of her books, but I have to be honest, I couldn't relate to her characters much. I mean, as a human being with struggles I could relate to them on that level, but I come from a dirt-poor background and somehow seeing a character turn up her nose at earrings from Tiffany's because she didn't like the SHAPE of them kind of made me throw up in my mouth a little bit. That's not to say I don't think that upper class people don't deserve books about their lives and struggles, I do, it's just that I saw Giffin's talent and was hoping that someday she'd try her hand at writing a book with characters I could more easily relate to.
I said all that to say this: Giffin fans rejoice, that day has come! While Marian is definitely affluent and doesn't worry about money, Kirby and her family are decidedly on the lower end of middle-class, and there's a great exchange where Kirby, an 18 year old adoptee who seeks out Marian, her birth mother, in hopes of building some kind of relationship, returns a bunch of expensive clothes that Marian buys her not because she doesn't like the clothes, but because accepting them makes her uncomfortable. It's a great moment in the book. It's clear that Marian doesn't know what to do when the baby she gave up for adoption shows up at her door 18 years later. Marian opted to keep her address current with the adoption agency in case the child wanted to contact her someday, so she knew this day might come, but she's still unprepared for the emotions and awkwardness that happen when Kirby, not a child but a young woman, shows up at her apartment one night. Marian kind of freaks out and does what she's done for a long time when problems have shown up: she tries to solve them with money and avoid any deeper contact because she's unsure of how else to express her feelings. Marian isn't a bad person, she's a flawed person who has everything she SHOULD want in life but isn't sure why she feels something is missing. She's a successful writer for a television show, she has a doting boyfriend who is equally affluent (though he seems unsure about committing to marriage) and Marian doesn't really know if these things are what she wants out of life. As a Natasha Josefowitz poem I once read puts it: "I have arrived...is this where I was going?"
For Kirby's part, she hasn't really grown up feeling ostracized because she's adopted. Her parents are clearly very loving, in a stable marriage, and they treat their two daughters (one adopted, one not) as equally as any parent can. If Kirby gets treated differently at all it's not because she's adopted, it's because she's very rebellious and difficult to deal with. She doesn't do drugs or party, but she doesn't apply herself in school even though she could ace most classes if she wanted to, and she rebels against her parents' offer to pay to send her to college because she's not sure what she wants to do in life and she doesn't know if college will help her decide that. Furthermore, she purposely pushes back against her parents at every turn, picking fights and throwing the fact that she's adopted in their faces because she knows that it will upset them to hear her say that they look down on her because she's not "really their kid," even though she knows this isn't true. I really think Kirby does this because she's a teenager. Her parents try to support her, but they don't understand that things like her love for music are more important to her than good grades, and that this could be a viable career for her because she has talent. Her parents don't mean to stifle her, they just don't get it, and likewise, Kirby doesn't mean to really hurt her parents, she's just frustrated and confused about her future. Kirby is on the cusp of a huge life change, graduation from high school, and she doesn't know where to go from there, and she takes her frustration and fear out on her parents. She fantasizes about what her birth parents might be like, if that's where she gets her passion for music, if they would understand her better, if finding her "real parents" might help her life make more sense. In other words, she dreams that the grass might be greener on the other side of the hill because she knows the grass on her side so well and she wonders what else is out there.
These characters are vastly different, but when they come together, their interactions teach them both a lot of lessons about love and life and family. there are a lot of twists and turns in the plot here, including a huge secret surrounding her pregnancy that Marian has kept to herself for over 18 years. Finding out what really happened back then, and what needs to happen now, forms the plot of this novel, and it was fascinating. I couldn't put it down, honestly, except when I passed out to sleep with the book in my hands because I was exhausted but wanted to keep reading. I highly recommend that fans of Emily Giffin's other books seek this one out, and even those who haven't read Giffin's work in the past might want to give this one a chance. I had already planned to buy this book when it came out, and getting an advance copy turned out to be a great gift, because I loved this book even more than I thought I would. Bravo, Emily Giffin. You made my day not just as a fan of YOUR books but as a fan of all books.