Not So Far From the Tree

by | Jan 6, 2019 | Realistic Fiction | 3 comments

There are many things I wish I had done better in 2018, but the beauty of the new year is that we get to make fresh, new promises to ourselves and dream about what could be in the coming months. As I reflected on 2018, I thought about this little blog and how much more I would like it to be. I didn’t post much in 2018, and I read far fewer books than I intended, so I look to 2019 with the goal to read more, carry out more #plotdrivenlife experiences and share them with you, dear reader, here. I have a new website in the works, I am fired up about my upcoming posts, and I’m trying a new tactic to keep me on track this year: the 1% Rule, a strategy I learned about from a fellow Toastmaster, Daniel, at a recent meeting. The 1% Rule revolves around the idea that if we spend just 1% of our day–14 total minutes–dedicated to a passion project or goal, we are much more likely to succeed. Everyone has 14 minutes per day to dedicate to a project that brings joy. Sneak a few minutes of time for your own passion project while in a doctor’s office waiting room, during your lunch break or while riding in a car. I have high hopes that this strategy will breathe new life into this blog and fuel at least two new posts per month through December. Let’s start with the first post!

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

In March 2018, I wrote a post about how my life (and the lives of my family) had been forever changed when, after 66 years, my dad connected with his biological birth mother whom I have lovingly nicknamed, “BG” or Bonus Grandma. If you didn’t read that post, catch up by reading it here. In the post, I mentioned that I’d get the chance to meet BG over the summer at a family (re)union, and I did! I’ll share all of the details of that meeting after I share about Robin Benway’s book, Far From the Tree:

Holy moly; this book BLEW MY MIND. Without a doubt, it’s the best book I read in 2018, and I want to sing about it from the treetops. I’m hosting a book club for staff at my high school this year featuring titles that include characters who have experienced trauma, and this book made the shortlist.

The story alternates between three half-siblings who have never met: Grace, who, at sixteen, has just delivered a baby and made the gut-wrenching choice to give her up for adoption; Maya, the youngest of the three whose family’s wealth can’t shelter her from her mother’s drinking and her parents’ volatile marriage; and Joaquin, the oldest who has lived many lives as a foster kid, still without a forever family. 

Grace’s decision to give up her daughter for adoption prompts her to want to search out her birth mother and siblings, and before long, she’s sitting in Maya’s dining room, trying to figure out what it means to be a sudden big sister. Maya and Grace email Joaquin who hesitantly agrees to meet, and the three begin to spend regular weekend dates together, trying to figure out their new normal. Grace pushes her siblings to help her find their mother, but because Grace feels overwhelming guilt and grief about her own decision to give up her baby, she keeps the secret from Maya and Joaquin. Maya and Joaquin’s own fractured lives further test the siblings’ delicate relationship.

My heart broke for these characters, but in particular, for Joaquin. His fear to connect with his foster parents because of his past trauma made me feel physical pain. More than once I was driving, listening to this book, and fighting back tears. This story packs a huge emotional punch, and I give it the highest recommendation.

In fairness, I read Far From the Tree after meeting my BG, but this book tied in so beautifully with the experience of uniting with my extended bonus family that it seemed like fate for me to read it in the same summer and include it as part of this blog post. This book explores both the joy and pain of connecting with biological family years after an adoption.

Meeting the Notorious BG

Mike and I traveled to Vancouver in early July 2018 and met up with the other members of my family for a few days before the reunion. On the day of the party, my mom and dad, aunt Janet, sister, Mike and I drove to BG’s town, just outside of Vancouver. I was figidty-nervous, and I can’t imagine how my dad must have felt anticipating this experience. Our bonus family had arranged for us to meet at the activity center in BG’s condo complex, and close to fifty guests were expected! Immediately after arriving, we were literally enveloped by my dad’s three sisters who are strong, kind women who love fiercely. I distinctly remember my bonus aunt Fiona holding me in a long hug that brought tears to my eyes. It’s a bittersweet thing, you see, to feel such an instant connection but to wonder how your life might be different if you’d known these lovely, genuine people all along.

My dad with cousin Shelley whose investigative work united the whole family.

As we circulated, I met countless cousins and family friends, two delightful great uncles, cousin Shelley who started the whole “investigation” and, of course, the notorious BG. BG had my heart in her hands from the moment I spotted her. To help us identify one another, we were asked to wear name tags, and instead of writing “Helen” or “mom” on hers, BG had written my nickname for her.

BG and me.

While I didn’t get to share much time with BG herself, the party felt like something out of a movie. BG, dad and Shelley gave moving speeches, friends and family shared favorite memories, and we played a matching game to find out interesting (and hilarious) facts about each other. My face hurt from smiling. As the guests began to leave, my bonus aunts pulled my mom, sister and me to an end table where we could talk and share, and they presented each of us with a beautiful Celtic knot necklace with the message, “Welcome to our clan.” Our bonus family could not have made us feel more special.

BG with her whole clan.

I feel so much joy for my dad who often has coffee with his younger bonus brother, is planning a vacation with his oldest sister and her husband, and has recently joined Facebook to connect with his newfound relatives. He so clearly “fits” into this family, even though he spent so many years apart. He didn’t fall so far from the tree.

Happy reading,


  1. Shannon Steimel

    How wonderful! Glad you got to meet BG. I need to booktalk Far From the Tree. Not many of my students have found it in their own yet.

    • kellyo

      It’s a great book, but a little slow going at first, Shannon. Joaquin’s story will break your heart!

  2. Sherrill Uriegas

    I love the dress swicheroo! Looks like a fun wedding! Best of luck!Hibryd-White wedding dresses originated when Queen Victoria married in 1840. Prior to that, women wore their best dress, whatever the color. Blue was also the original color of purity.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *