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Isabel's Daughter: A Novel

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Overview

The first time I saw my mother was the night she died. The second time was at a party in Santa Fe.

After a childhood spent in an institution and a series of foster homes, Avery James has trained herself not to wonder about the mother who gave her up. But her safe, predictable life changes one night when she stumbles upon the portrait of a woman who is the mirror image of herself.

Slowly but inevitably, Avery is compelled to discover all she ...

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Isabel's Daughter

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Overview

The first time I saw my mother was the night she died. The second time was at a party in Santa Fe.

After a childhood spent in an institution and a series of foster homes, Avery James has trained herself not to wonder about the mother who gave her up. But her safe, predictable life changes one night when she stumbles upon the portrait of a woman who is the mirror image of herself.

Slowly but inevitably, Avery is compelled to discover all she can about her mother, Isabel. Avery is drawn into complex relationships with the people who knew her mother. As she weaves together the threads of her mother's artistic heritage and her grandmother's skills as a healer, Avery learns that while discovering Isabel provides a certain resolution in her life, it's discovering herself that brings lasting happiness.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
Hendricks calls to mind Barbara Kingsolver in her affinity for wise women and the power of close female friendships.”
Booklist
“[Hendricks] calls to mind Barbara Kingsolver in her affinity for wise women and the power of close female friendships.”
USA Today
Hendricks' novel is an engaging read, which adds a little extra to an ordinary story. — April Umminger
Publishers Weekly
A foundling's search for her mother is the subject of this heartfelt if predictable second novel by Hendricks (Bread Alone). Revealed in flashbacks, Avery James's odyssey takes place in the Southwest, where she grew up in the county orphan's home. She is shunned by her more privileged peers through most of her school years, until popular Will Cameron breaks through her determinedly antisocial armor, and she has her first bittersweet experience of love. Avery leaves the home for the rural haven provided by an eccentric old woman called Cassie, a curandera, or healer, who teaches Avery how to concoct remedies from wild plants. As she grows older, Avery's curiosity about the mother who abandoned her becomes increasingly obsessive. Eventually, she finds her way to Santa Fe and its famed art colonies, and goes to work for a trendy caterer (she had providentially learned to cook in the orphans' home). At the house of a client, she sees a portrait of a woman to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Avery's eyes, one brown, one amber, have always been her distinguishing feature, and they're exactly like those of the woman in the portrait, painted by renowned, brilliant artist Tom Hemmings. The client and owner of the painting, millionaire gallery owner Paul DeGraf, takes a liking to Avery and becomes pivotal to her search for her roots. The climax involves a heady dose of feel-good melodrama, but Avery's no-nonsense toughness keeps the saccharine at bay. 6-city author tour. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Avery James, left at an orphanage as a newborn, cannot forget that her mother abandoned her. Angry at the world, she runs away at 13 and attends high school in a nearby New Mexico town with the help of Cassie, an old woman who is herbalist, healer, and friend. The teen falls in love with Will Cameron, a wealthy classmate who proposes marriage. But Cassie dies suddenly, and Avery fears discovery of her past. After graduation, she flees again, to Albuquerque. Working as a waitress, she makes friends with Rita, and they move to Santa Fe, where a small catering firm hires her. While working at the home of Paul DeGraf, an art dealer, she sees a portrait of a woman who could be her double: it is her mother. A well-known fiber artist engaged to DeGraf, she drowned mysteriously in the pool at his home. When Rita leaves, Avery, now jobless, moves into DeGraf's guest house. She meets Will again, and their future together is presaged, but Isabel's death remains a mystery. Teens will identify with Avery, who has all the emotion and sass of a girl becoming a woman, plus an indomitable will. While the story is somewhat fantastic, the characters, especially the protagonist, are well drawn and the dialogue is true to life.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060503475
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/29/2004
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 539,703
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A former journalist, copywriter, computer instructor, travel agent, waitress, and baker, Judith Ryan Hendricks is the author of three previous novels, including the bestseller Bread Alone. She and her husband live in New Mexico.

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First Chapter

Isabel's Daughter
A Novel

Chapter One

The first time I saw my mother was the night she died. The second time was at a party in Santa Fe.

Once in history class I made a time line. It was a thick, straight black line, intersected by crosshatches representing dates and events. The teacher claimed that you could tell by studying it how events were related to each other, the causes and effects.

The problem is, time isn't a straight line. I think of it more as a huge arc, curving gently into space, keeping not only the future just out of sight, but the past as well. You never really know what might have caused something to happen, and the effects ripple outward in ever widening circles.

Like losing my contact lens, for instance. I was supposed to be off this whole weekend, my last free weekend before the season gets crazy. And then Juana calls on Thursday to tell me Patrice stepped off a curb and broke her ankle and they need me to work a party Friday night.

"Pinnacle Gallery on Canyon Road," she says. "Lots of people. Big tips."

Friday morning she calls me again. "Hey, chica. Party is changed to DeGraf's house -- "

"The what house?"

"DeGraf. Mister DeGraf. You know San Tomás?"

As it happens, I do. It's one of those narrow, unpaved roads that winds south off Canyon Road. I've wandered past it lots of Sunday mornings, clutching my coffee from Downtown Subscription and peering in the gallery windows. One time I turned at the corner and walked a little ways, hoping for a glimpse of one of the huge homes behind adobe walls. I got chased by a Doberman for my curiosity, while the ownerhollered, "Stand still, miss! He won't bite you."

I didn't trust him or his dog, so I ran like a jackrabbit back out to Canyon, fully expecting to feel the hot breath, the sharp teeth sinking into my leg at any minute. But when I looked around the dog was gone.

It's late April in Santa Fe, but at 7,000 feet, spring is slow to take hold. In the daytime, fierce winds blow out of the west, and the inside of your nose feels like it's lined with Cap'n Crunch. At night the air is sharp and cold, still laced with piñon smoke from hundreds of kiva fireplaces.

Tonight I'm racing the clock, and my breath makes little puffs of steam as I half walk, half jog down the narrow sidewalk. My white shirt's already damp under the arms, I know my tie is crooked, and my hair is about to come loose from its knot.

Worst of all, I'm late. Again. While we were getting ready, Rita knocked a bottle of perfume off the shelf and she tried to catch it before it hit the tile counter, but she just ended up knocking my contact lens off my finger into oblivion, and the bottle smashed all over anyway and then we started yelling at each other and here I am. It's not my fault, but I don't imagine Dale will give two hoots about that.

Then as I round a curve I see lights. Farolitos, those little brown paper bags with candles inside that people in this town love so much, line the top of a wall. Except these are probably the new version, electrolitos. Plus lots of little twinkle lights twined in the tree branches. This is it.

The address -- 505 San Tomás -- is spelled out in Mexican tiles over a massive blue door, set into a wall the color of chocolate ice cream. A couple of guys with clipboards and walkie-talkies lounge against the wall smoking and looking bored. I give them my name. Apparently Kirk has neglected to change Patrice's name to mine on his list, so they have to ring up Dale on his cell phone to be sure I'm not an international jewel thief, before they let me in.

"Kitchen door's around to the left past the pool," the older one says. "And stay on the path. Mr. DeGraf don't like people cutting through the garden." He flicks his cigarette away.

"Mr. DeGraf probably don't like cigarette butts all over his yard either." I smile at him as I step through the gate.

The house is a pueblo-style adobe, fashioned with the rounded corners and soft silhouettes of the Pueblo Indian dwellings, not the more boxy, territorial adobes like the Anglos built later on. It's a lighter shade of chocolate than the wall, with the traditional blue doors and windows that are supposed to keep out brujas, or witches. I follow the stone walkway past a huge old lilac bush, its branches drooping under the weight of fragrant purple clusters about to explode into bloom, and cut across the patio. A swimming pool sparkles aquamarine in its underwater lights.

The kitchen is in the usual preparty state of controlled chaos. It's small but elegant, with granite countertops and the kind of appliances favored by people who can afford to hire kitchen designers. When the screen door bangs behind me, Dale makes a big show of looking at his Rolex.

"Avery. So glad you could join us." His dark eyes give me a once-over. "Polished and pulled together as usual, I see." The guy standing beside him rustles a wrinkled yellow invoice. "Thanks, Tom. Put the wine over there. Under that table."

I try to secure my hair. "They didn't have my name on the -- "

"Jesus Christ, you reek. What did you do, take a bath in Opium?"

"Eternity. I'm sorry. Rita broke the bottle and it went everywhere, and I didn't have time to -- "

He gives me The Look. "Never mind. Fix your tie and run out to the -- shit! Where's your eyes?"

"My eyes are in my head, Dale. I lost my contact."

I notice the muscle in his jaw twitching. "Well, try not to look at anybody...

Isabel's Daughter
A Novel
. Copyright © by Judith Hendricks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions
  1. What is Isabel's Daughter about? What does the story say about the relationship between mothers and daughters? About where we draw from in forging our identity, our "self"? About what constitutes family?

  2. Even though Avery has never met her mother, are there any parallels in their lives?

  3. When Avery runs into Will at the café, why isn't she more receptive to his suggestion that they get together and talk about the past?

  4. Why is Avery so casually cruel to Rita at times, even as she acknowledges how much she owes her?

  5. What significance does Avery's mixed blood have for her? For the story?

  6. Why is Avery so reluctant at first to learn about her mother, after all the years of wondering?

  7. What is the function of Jimmie John's character?

  8. Cassie is probably as close as Avery comes to a relative while growing up, but there is still a gap between them that apparently cannot be bridged. Why?

  9. How has Avery been shaped by her experiences at the Carson home, both with religion and relationships -- Ridley, Lee-Ann and Esperanza?

  10. What does Avery see in Paul deGraf? What does she want from him? What does he see in her?

  11. What can she learn about Isabel from her work?

  12. Does Avery have a realistic sense of whom to trust (or mistrust)?

  13. There's a lot of fire in this story -- cooking, warmth (fireplace or woodstove) and wildfire -- what is the significance of it?

  14. How does Avery's discovery of the ticket and passport in Isabel's suitcase affect her perception of her mother? Of Paul deGraf? Ofherself?

  15. Why does it take her so long to realize that Lindsey's in love with Paul?

  16. Why does she opt not to become a caterer in Santa Fe, even though she has the experience, the backer (s)/contacts, and an obvious love of and talent for cooking?

  17. What do you think of Avery's assertion that "Babies are born with the seeds of who they'll be already inside them."? Does her own life bear this out?

  18. Why does Avery never really evidence any interest in the identity of her father, when there's a good chance that he's still alive, in the approximate vicinity, and could probably be helpful to her, at least financially?

About the author

Judith Ryan Hendricks worked as a copywriter, journalist, computer instructor, travel agent, and waitress before landing at Seattle's McGraw Street Bakery, where she fell in love with the rhythm of baking. Hendricks now lives in Long Beach, California, with her husband, Geoff, and still keeps a crock of sourdough starter in the refrigerator.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2005

    Pleasant surprise!

    As a huge fan of Bread Alone, I decided to try a second novel from Ms. Hendricks and was very glad I did. The novel is about a woman (Avery James) who searches for answers about the mother she never knew. However, the story goes much deeper as it unfolds, detailing the events in Avery's life. The people she encounters and the challenges she must meet along the way are nothing less than incredibly interesting. I highly recomend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction with a little romance mixed in!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2014

    This book

    Hey my name is Isabel

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

    Excellent read

    Excellent. Character is very interesting and very believable. This is one worth the$$. If you liked this book you will think to yourself to pick up on The laws of harmony...don't....you will be disappointed. This novel is way better. Enjoy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2004

    Isabel's Daughter

    I agree with you on that one I thought that Isabel's daughter was one of those books that you could curl up next to a fire with. I also thought that the story made you think about the moral of the story. I began to feel sorry for Avery and began to imagine myself as Avery James. The morals of this story are never abandon your children, and you can't rely too much on people because they come and go. This book taught me some valuable life lessons.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2003

    Absolutely Wonderful!

    This is an absolutely wonderful book. This is the story of Avery James, the daughter of an artist (Isabel) who was deposited in a Foundling home at birth. Avery grows up painfully and constantly at a distance from those around her. The novel is set in Santa Fe and other small towns in New Mexico and what wonderful, beautiful locales they are! The book offers just the perfect amount of mysticism that fits the locales and the characters. Judi Hendricks has a wonderful ability to make you feel strongly about her characters and their actions (whether you agree or disagree) - yet you always want them to succeed. I felt the same way about Wyn in her first book, ¿Bread Alone¿. The Avery you know through most of the book isn¿t one I found myself caring for, but the Avery she becomes is a wonderful woman who finally allows herself to be the strong, kind, loving woman she always could have been under different circumstances. Read this book!!!

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