Adult Fiction · Review · YA

Is This YA? Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

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.

Marian is thirty-six years old and has come to a crossroads of sorts with her boyfriend, who isn’t on the same page as her in regards to their future together.  She’s feeling vulnerable and decides to spend the night at her own place.  In this state of mind, facing an uncertain future, she is confronted by her past.  A young girl shows up at her apartment, introduces herself as Kirby and says, “I think you’re my mother.”

Kirby is still in high school, a couple months from graduation.  She’s unsure of herself, like any teenager, but because she is adopted, she is naturally curious about her birth parents.  She feels unconnected to her adopted parents and her sister, who was conceived after Kirby was adopted, and feels fundamentally different from them.  Marian filled out paperwork that allowed the adoption agency to give out her contact information if the adopted child requests it and Kirby uses the information to track her down.

This book is told through the alternating perspectives of Marian and Kirby.  Emily used the same method with her previous book, Heart of the Matter, but it’s really more effective here.  I am not sure why, maybe because of different the narrators are. Each perspective is told through first person rather than third person., and we learn a lot about both characters in a pure way, through their own thoughts and actions, rather than through an objective outsider.  And I really liked the flashbacks to 1995, where we learn about Marian’s relationship with Conrad, her subsequent pregnancy and the actions that lead to her giving Kirby up.  I fell in love with Conrad and wanted more about him. 

Sometimes it’s hard to start a Emily Giffin book because I know it will become so involved with the book, and that I will shun food and family (well…maybe not food), that I put it off.  And that is what happened here.  I’ve been having the book for months (I won an ARC from Goodreads), but when I finally picked it up, I couldn’t put it down and read it very quick. 

Let me tell you how well I know myself.  I was hooked immediately.  The first chapter really clinched it.  I loved Marian.  She was my age, actually doing what she wanted with her life (I still don’t know what I want to do, so I am a little jealous of this fictional character), but she still felt unsure about things and you could feel her impotence she must have felt trying to convince her boyfriend to take a chance on them and a future together.  And then in the next chapter, I realized she graduated from high school in 1995 (a year after me) and the summer I was 19 all came rushing back to me…

But I digress. 

Emily’s books are about imperfect people who put on a good show for the outside world.  If I had known Marian, if she was my friend, I would see her as the untouchable good girl who never did anything wrong.  I would be shocked to learn of her teenage pregnancy.  Then we learn that good girl, goody-two-shoes Marian didn’t even tell the baby’s father that she was pregnant. In fact, she told no one except her mother.  It turns out that Marian is a coward.  As a pregnant teenager, she saw her future and the things she has accomplished to get where she was and it would have to change drastically.  Even though it worked out because she gave the baby up, what she was more worried about were the feelings she had for Conrad. Regardless about Marian’s betrayal of Conrad, I still felt defensive of her, especially with her boyfriend, Peter. 

Kirby was such a great character, too.  She felt like an outsider in her own family, but when she finally meets Marian and sees how different they are from each other, she still feels the kind of connection she was hoping for.  It’s not as strong as it could be because initially Marian avoids the subject of Kirby’s father.  Kirby becomes frustrated, but in a fit of courage, she finally asks about him only to learn the shocking truth.  She decides to try to find him on her own, but in the end, she and Marian meet him together to tell him the truth.  And it is the hardest thing that Marian’s ever had to do.

Kirby’s part of the story could have been it’s own YA book about finding her birth parents, meeting her first boyfriend, her conflict with her best friend, deciding about college and her future, and finally connecting with her adopted family.  I especially liked her guidance counselor, the only adult that Kirby seems to really like.  Kirby was very well fleshed out.  Her feelings were honest, raw, and she didn’t hold back.  She wasn’t the type to keep her thoughts and feelings hidden.  I loved that about her. 

Marian and Conrad’s flashback story is very YA, too.  Falling in love and really connecting with someone for the first time, discovering that the love they share won’t help to bridge their vast differences…and then finally completing their story after almost twenty years apart, it was a compelling story.  I also really loved Marian’s relationship with her father.

I am sorry, I am afraid I let this review get away from me.  I just loved this book so much. (I want to also note that I loaned it to my best friend, another big Giffin fan, and she loved it as much as I did.) It was heartbreaking, sad, funny; it was a story about love, friendship, and family.  Ultimately, it left me feeling hopeful.  I was sad to leave these girls.  I always say that Something Borrowed is my favorite Emily Giffin book.  It certainly is the one that makes me want to pick up each one she puts out, hoping that it’s story will be as good.  And while I do like the other stories, none of them really resonated with me in the same way Something Borrowed did.  Where We Belong, I can say with the authority of someone who’s read all of Emily Giffin’s books, is the best.  If you’re a fan of Emily Giffin, smart, flawed characters, chick-lit, or contemporary YA, you, too, will love this book.

Emily started a pay-it-forward movement on her facebook page in the hopes of getting the book to people who could not afford it.  I loved that idea and considering I didn’t have to pay for the book, either, I decided to pay it forward, too.  If you would like a copy of this book, leave me a comment (until Friday November 23 at 11:59 p. m.) with your email address and I will randomly choose one commenter to win this book.  Open to US and Canada. But you should really read this book.  NOW!  🙂

Pecans: 5/5

7 thoughts on “Is This YA? Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

  1. This sounds great! I have really enjoyed Emily Giffin’s books in the past, and I can’t wait to read this one. Loved your review. 🙂
    youthlitreviews [at] live [dot] com

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