“Far From the Tree” by Robin Benway


Opening “Far from the Tree” by Robin Benway, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. Seeing the story was about three kids who had been separated almost at birth, I guessed it was some sort of heartwarming story about siblings finding each other. But while “Far from the Tree” was indeed a heartwarming and beautiful story, it was not about a search for family: Instead, it was a story of what family means, and dealing with family even as life changes around you.

“Far from the Tree” tells the story of the three siblings Joaquin, Grace and Maya. They were put up for adoption as babies, with Grace and Maya adopted by families living only miles apart. Joaquin is not adopted, but by the time of the story is living with foster parents not far from Grace and Maya.

The story begins with 16-year-old Grace, as she finally asks the question about her biological mother after Grace puts her own daughter up for adoption. Her parents put her in contact with Maya, and Joaquin and the three finally meet soon after.

The siblings connect quickly, and begin meeting regularly to talk. But as they grow closer, each of them has their own issues they must grapple with. Maya’s family is falling apart: Her parents breaking up, her mother dealing with alcoholism, and her other sister Lauren fighting with her. Joaquin’s foster parents want to adopt him, but Joaquin refuses, as he tries to figure out an unhappy past he has a hard time moving beyond. And Grace keeps pushing the idea they should find their birth mother—something the other two refuse to help with—and can not bring herself to disclose the truth about her pregnancy and child.

As the story winds on, things grow more and more tangled; Maya’s family splintering when her mother’s condition is discovered, her girlfriend Claire breaking up with her; Joaquin driving away his foster family even as they try and help him, his past keeping him from a new family; and Grace’s secret becoming more and more difficult to reveal to her siblings, even as it has consumed the rest of her life. All three of them have to ask questions of themselves: How much do they share with their newfound siblings? How do these people fit in with their original families? And if they do go searching for their birth mother, are they prepared for what they might find?

As a general rule, I avoid realistic fiction such as this, being more interested in fantasy or science fiction. But this book in particular I found beautiful. All three main characters were exquisitely constructed, with very realistic motivations, feelings, and conversations. I have never cried while reading a book, but I came close on several occasions in this book. Several of the scenes were beautiful in their detail and content. The story arc also worked well, with definite changes in each character and a well-timed climax.

I did have a few minor quibbles with the novel. First of all, I never was able to identify the setting in which the story takes place. We can tell from context it’s somewhere reasonably developed and populated, but we never get an actual name for the location, or any clues about the region of the country it is in. That may have been intentional, but personally I found the lack of location somewhat distracting as I had to try and puzzle it out.

“Far From the Tree” should appeal to a variety of readers. The beautifully paced story and vivid characters should be enjoyed by most people, especially fans of realistic fiction. Anyone who appreciates a good drama should also enjoy the many moments of upheaval and the frequent emotional dilemmas. Even if you don’t think you enjoy those genres, you should try this book. As a National Book Award Winner, “Far from the Tree” is an emotional and lovely read.