Thursday, September 13, 2012
Book Review: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
Author: Emily Giffin
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library
Summary from Goodreads:
Marian Caldwell is a thirty-six year old television producer, living her dream in New York City. With a fulfilling career and satisfying relationship, she has convinced everyone, including herself, that her life is just as she wants it to be. But one night, Marian answers a knock on the door . . . only to find Kirby Rose, an eighteen-year-old girl with a key to a past that Marian thought she had sealed off forever. From the moment Kirby appears on her doorstep, Marian’s perfectly constructed world—and her very identity—will be shaken to its core, resurrecting ghosts and memories of a passionate young love affair that threaten everything that has come to define her.
For the precocious and determined Kirby, the encounter will spur a process of discovery that ushers her across the threshold of adulthood, forcing her to re-evaluate her family and future in a wise and bittersweet light. As the two women embark on a journey to find the one thing missing in their lives, each will come to recognize that where we belong is often where we least expect to find ourselves—a place that we may have willed ourselves to forget, but that the heart remembers forever.
I will start by saying that I have always been a big fan of Emily Giffin's books in the past. I got hooked on Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and ever since then, as soon as I finish one of her novels, I start Googling around to see if there are any rumors about when her next one is coming out. I don't give them all 5-star reviews, but I like her writing style and the fact that she's able to write emotionally-charged books that don't always have the cliched happy ending.
That said, I was also recently dismayed by the controversy surrounding Giffin and her husband on Amazon, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about that a little as I was reading. BUT, this review is about the book, NOT that other stuff, and I want to make that clear from the get-go.
SO! I was drawn into Marian and Kirby's story very quickly. I know I talk about my mom-perspective a lot, but this book was especially emotional for me because I was constantly thinking about how it would feel to have to give up your child just three days after they were born. Pre-baby, yes, it still would have been a tough thing to consider. But now, I was practically in tears picturing it. Giffin does a good job illustrating the gut-wrenching emotions in this situation for everyone involved--not just Marian and Kirby, but Kirby's adoptive parents, birth father, etc.
I have to say that Kirby was my favorite of the two main characters. Yes, she's young and directionless, but also mature and unique in a way that she doesn't realize. I loved the chapters that were told from her perspective. (And, as a former aspiring girl drummer, I had to admire her musical taste!) Plus, her humor is refreshing at times, given the serious nature of the issues involved.
However, I had a bit more trouble with Marian. I never felt like I got a real handle on her. Sometimes she'd throw off the vibe of the mature and worldly woman who's come to terms with her 18-year-old decision; other times (honestly, most of the time), she just seemed like a shallow snob who thinks she's grown up, but doesn't realize she is still being immature and selfish. Right up to the end, she continues to claim that she gave Kirby up for adoption because it was the best decision for Kirby, not for her (Marian). But it seemed pretty obvious to me that Marian's only true reason for giving Kirby up was that she didn't want to screw up her perfect life and future. If she had kept Kirby, Marian's family had the means to give her a cushy life--but Marian's reputation and career dreams would have changed. This is never really addressed or resolved in the novel, though the ending made me wonder if Giffin meant it to feel that way. Either way, it was a point of frustration for me that Marian never really had a true "epiphany".
All that said--I did enjoy that the ending is not what you expect. As I mentioned above, Giffin is very good at the non-cliche ending, and she continues that streak here. It might be my favorite thing about her as an author. Well, that and the way she sneaks in characters from her other books into her current novels. I was pretty psyched to spot Claudia, Ben, and Jess from Baby Proof (and you even get a bit more info about what happened to Claudia and Ben after the book ended!). Good stuff!
Overall? Despite my frustrations about Marian, this was a wonderful book. This is a touchy subject in many ways, but Giffin expertly handles the emotions and decisions that are involved. In the end, you have a thoughtful piece of women's fiction (NOT chick lit!) that draws to a satisfying conclusion without tying up every tiny loose end. I heard it got picked up for a movie deal, so let's see how Hollywood totally ruins it. Ha!