Growing up in Idaho with loving parents, Cassandra McMurtrey has always known she was adopted, but now, at 18, she’s curious about her birth mother. Because the adoption was closed, her parents have little information to give. But with the support of her best friend, Nyla, an adopted orphan from Liberia, Cassandra begins a search that leads to a stack of letters written by “S,” her birth mother. Hand (
My Plain Jane) drew on the search for her own biological mother in this compelling novel, which offers two dramas in one: witty letters penned by “S” alternate with events from Cassandra’s senior year as she develops a crush on a new student, plays a lead role in a school play, and worries about her adoptive mother, who is in dire need of a heart transplant. Many characters emerge as heroes here, sacrificing their own desires for others: “S,” who is determined to find the perfect parents for her unborn daughter; Cassandra, who remains considerate of the feelings of birth mother and adoptive parents; and her adoptive parents, who put their own concerns aside to do what’s best for their child. If the tidy ending relies too heavily on coincidence, the rest of this compassionate story rings true. Ages 13–up. (Nov.)
An excellent exploration of the complicated facets of teen pregnancy, adoption, and sacrifice.” — Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“This compassionate story rings true.” —
“The novel’s great strength is the emotional depth of its characters and the complexity of their relationships. A heartfelt and hopeful story about coming of age as an adoptee.” — School Library Journal
“Hand explores adoption’s multiple dimensions with great insight and sensitivity. Inclusive and illustrative: an engaging lesson in timeless family values.” —
“Cynthia Hand is the master of pulling at your heartstrings. The How & the Why tells both sides of an adoption story with love, compassion, and care. You’ll be reaching for your tissue box with this one if you can stop turning pages long enough, that is.” — Brigid Kemmerer,
New York Times Bestselling Author of Letters to the Lost
“Beautifully rendered and superbly shaped. Hand has crafted an absorbing novel that focuses on family, friendship, teen pregnancy, adoption, personal choices, and serious health issues. Give this exquisite novel to readers seeking an emotionally intricate story.” —
Booklist (starred review)
Beautifully rendered and superbly shaped. Hand has crafted an absorbing novel that focuses on family, friendship, teen pregnancy, adoption, personal choices, and serious health issues. Give this exquisite novel to readers seeking an emotionally intricate story.
Booklist (starred review)
Gr 8 Up—For high school senior Cassandra McMurtrey, turning 18 means being old enough to face the question of whether she should seek out her birth mother. Adopted as an infant in a closed domestic adoption, Cass has a good life: she's a talented musical theater performer with loving parents and a best friend, Nyla, who always has her back. She isn't missing anything except "the how and the why"—a knowledge of where she came from. But seeking out information about her birth mother's identity results in bureaucratic frustrations and multiple dead ends. Interspersed with Cass's story are letters written 18 years earlier by her birth mother, who signs her letters as S, as part of a state program in which women could leave letters for their babies. S describes herself as the "solidly average" 16-year-old daughter of a local politician, living at a residential school for pregnant teens and wittily narrating her feelings of ambiguity about the pregnancy and the events that led up to it. This book offers an emotionally nuanced look at adoption from the perspective of both the birth mother and the child, which is informed by the author's own experiences as an adoptee. The novel's great strength is the emotional depth of its characters and the complexity of their relationships to one another. Cass's friendship with Nyla, who was adopted from Liberia as a young child, offers a contrasting adoption experience that both girls struggle with: is it better to have answers about the past the way Nyla does, even if those answers are heartbreaking? While the ending may feel overly convenient, the story places more significance on the messy journey than the idealized arrival. VERDICT A heartfelt and hopeful story about coming of age as an adoptee that is highly recommended for all collections.— Elizabeth Giles, Lubuto Library Partners, Zambia
An adopted teen and her birth mother share their stories.
My Plain Jane, 2018, etc.) strays from reimagining classics to crafting an intricate contemporary narrative, interweaving 18-year-old Cassandra McMurtrey's present-day quest to find her birth mother with revealing letters "S" wrote her unborn daughter. Despite being set in sleepy, mostly white Idaho Falls, this fast-paced roller-coaster tale of identity formation includes richly detailed character development and a refreshingly diverse cast of characters, many of whom actively question life choices and what makes you you. Hand is at pains to show that while adoptions are frequently fraught with emotion and deserving of acceptance for all parties involved, their terms can vary greatly. White Cass was adopted at 6 weeks of age by white, middle-class parents who knew her birth mother only on paper, while Cass' best friend, Nyla, who is black, was adopted from Liberia at age 3 by white, upper-class parents. Nyla, whose family are Latter-day Saints like many in town, recalls her mother's name, that her parents were killed in the civil war, and that she had a brother, but little else. While aspects of this half first person/half epistolary novel exhibit melodramatic soap appeal—Cass' adoptive mother is in desperate need of a heart transplant; there are startling and disturbing revelations about S's father—Hand explores adoption's multiple dimensions with great insight and sensitivity.
Inclusive and illustrative: an engaging lesson in timeless family values.
Cynthia Hand is the master of pulling at your heartstrings. The How & the Why tells both sides of an adoption story with love, compassion, and care. You’ll be reaching for your tissue box with this one if you can stop turning pages long enough, that is.
An excellent exploration of the complicated facets of teen pregnancy, adoption, and sacrifice.
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)