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“It took us fifteen years to find each other, but we still did! And sometimes, family hurts each other. But after that's done you bandage each other up, and you move on. Together. You've got us now, like it or not, and we've got you.” —Far From the Tree
Far From the Tree
by Robin Benway
AR Test, Diverse Characters, LGBTQ
Grace always thought she was going to attend homecoming with her boyfriend, Max. All the pictures, suits, dresses, makeup, heels—it was supposed to be one of the happiest, most memorable nights of her life. However, after Grace gives birth to Peach, her and Max’s baby—Grace finds herself giving Peach away to adopted parents on homecoming night. After giving Peach away, Grace is desperately alone and decides to find her own biological mother.
As Grace searches through adoption paperwork for any information on her birth mother, she learns she has a biological sister and brother. Maya lives close by, but in a family where she feels she does not belong. After years of group homes Grace’s brother, Joaquin, now lives with foster parents. After a few awkward encounters at a local coffee shop, the three teenagers find out they have more in common with each other than they first thought. Together, they search for their mother, and along the way, they learn what truly defines a family.
Three diverse characters. Three diverse families. Three diverse storylines wrapped up into one magnificent book. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are unique, well-developed characters each with their own problems. Grace feels alone in the world and finds it difficult to love. Maya feels as if she does not fit into her adopted family because her parents love their biological child more. Joaquin loves his foster parents but is scared to be adopted by them. Together, the three friends help each other cope with their problems. Their combined effort will show readers just how strong the ties of family and friendship are.
Although best suited for older readers, Far from the Tree paints a perfect picture of teenagers in modern-day society. Readers will feel as if they are one with Maya, Grace, and Joaquin and will empathize with them as they struggle against their inner demons. The siblings deal with a multitude of problems including racism, bullying, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and mental health issues. The dilemmas the siblings face are authentic and will have readers in tears. Benway also dives into the problems that adopted children face and the bullying and torment they often encounter in school and foster homes.
Although the story is easy to read, the heavy topics, profanity, and sexual content make this book more appropriate for older readers. The three main characters each have a different perspective on the issues they encounter throughout the story, so every reader will be able to identify and relate to at least one of the characters and their struggles. Altogether, Benway creates a story of three teenagers against the world. Far from the Tree will tug on readers’ heartstrings and leave them with a new world perspective.
- Maya asks Grace if she had a boyfriend. Grace answered “yes,” and “Maya wondered if Grace was lying. Grace seemed like the kind of girl who would wait her whole life so she could lose her virginity on her wedding night, who would read Cosmo articles about How to give him the best blow job of his life! but never actually say the word blow job.”
- Joaquin reminisces about the first time he kissed his girlfriend. He thinks, “The very first time she had kissed him, he had panicked at how soft she was, how hot her mouth felt, and he didn’t understand how someone with such cold hands could have such a warm heart.”
- While eating in a sandwich shop, Rafe and Grace sit close to each other. Grace thinks that “no boy had been this close to Grace since the night she and Max had the sex that produced Peach, but she didn’t scoot away from him.”
- After fighting, Maya and her girlfriend Claire decide to make out. “Maya smiled again, her teeth bumping against Claire’s mouth.” Maya says, “Because nothing’s more hot than making out behind the gym at school.”
- When Grace accidentally falls in Rafe’s arms, “Grace knew what she was supposed to do in the TV-show version of this moment: kiss him. She knew what she wanted to do: kiss him. And she knew what she couldn’t do, not just yet.”
- Maya asks Grace if intercourse with Max was good. Grace says, “At least tell me the sex was good. If you have to get pregnant and have a baby, the sex should be mind-blowing.”
- After breaking up with his girlfriend, Joaquin sees her kissing Colin. Joaquin describes this encounter in detail saying, “They were kissing, Birdie’s long arm wrapped around Colin’s neck the same way that she used to wrap it around Joaquin’s. If he thought about it too much, Joaquin could almost feel the warmth of her skin, the heat of her mouth, the way she always smelled good, like soap and shampoo.” One of Birdie’s friends runs up to Joaquin after the encounter and insists that she is doing it to make him jealous.
- When Maya was in third grade, Emily Whitmore explained how Maya’s sister would always be loved more than her because she is a biological child. Maya could still remember “Emily’s face as she explained the ‘facts’ to her, could still remember the sharp, cutting way she’d wanted to put her eight-year-old fist right through Emily’s smug little mug.”
- After being harassed about having a baby with Adam, “Grace didn’t know what moved first, her body or her hand, but then she was flying over her desk like she was running the hurdles in gym class, her fist out so it could make clean contact with Adam’s face. He made a sound like someone had let the air out of him, and when he fell backward, his desk trapping him against the floor, Grace pinned him and punched him again. She hadn’t had this much adrenaline since Peach had been born. It felt good. She even smiled when she punched Adam for the third time.” Grace and Adam are both taken to the office, and Grace has to be homeschooled for the rest of the year. This scene takes place over two pages.
- After going out for dinner, Maya finds her mom on the bathroom floor, “crumpled like a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, and there was blood coming from her head, staining the marble floor that was freezing cold under Maya’s bare feet.” Maya’s mom had fallen after drinking too much.
- The siblings are meeting at a coffee shop when Adam appears and harasses Grace yet again for having a baby. “Maya was about to do something, say something, anything to release the pressure that she felt exploding her chest, when suddenly Joaquin was up and moving so fast that no one saw him coming. In one smooth motion, he had Adam up against the wall, his forearm pressed across his chest, and Adam looked wide-eyed and scared, a fish out of water.” Joaquin threatens Adam, and Adam never hurts Grace again. This scene takes place over two pages.
- Joaquin discusses his anger management issues. During one of his temper tantrums when he was younger, Joaquin threw a metal stapler at Natalie, a toddler that Joaquin’s former foster parents, the Buchanan’s, loved. After it hit her in the head and knocked her unconscious, Mr. Buchanan let out a roar and grabbed Joaquin and threw him against a bookshelf, breaking Joaquin’s arm. “Joaquin could still hear the crack of bone, one white-hot pain replacing another, but nothing was as loud as the sound of Natalie falling to the floor.” This scene takes place over two pages.
- Aunt Jessica describes a truck accident. The woman “was twenty-one, crossing the street, and she got hit by a trucker who ran a red light. He said he didn’t even see her. She died instantly, they said. She didn’t suffer. I worried about that, but that’s what they told us.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- The night Maya got caught sneaking out with her girlfriend, Maya “had met up with Claire in the park, smoking a joint that Claire had stolen from her older brother, Caleb.”
- Maya’s mom is an alcoholic, and Maya finds her hidden wine while looking for some costume materials. When Maya pulls boots from the closet, she thinks that “they were heavy when she pulled them out, though, way heavier than any boots should have been, and by the time she’d wrestled them out of the closet and into the bedroom, the bottle of merlot had fallen out. Maya looked at it for a long minute before reaching into the other boot and pulling out a half-full bottle of red zinfandel.”
- Maya and Grace smoke a joint, much to Joaquin’s surprise. He asks, “Are you supposed to be smoking weed?”
- Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes asshole, boobs, slut, idiot, damn, and variations of shit and fuck.
- Oh My god is used as an exclamation often.
- After Maya reminisces about being bullied for being adopted, Maya says, “Other kids could be real assholes.”
- When they pulled up to Maya’s house, Grace’s dad whistled under his breath, and her mom said, “Oh my God, I knew you should have worn a suit.”
- Joaquin realizes that he has two sisters and exclaims, “Holy shit.”
- After breaking up with Birdie, Birdie’s friend Marjorie says, “You’re a real asshole you know that?” to Joaquin.
- At school, Grace was called, “Slut, baby mama, Shamu – the list went on.”
- When Grace sits down at her desk on her first day back, “Someone had carved SLUT into the fake wood desk, but she wasn’t sure if that was for her, some other girl, or just the product of some bored junior who had a limited vocabulary.”
- Adam makes fun of Grace by saying, “Grace! Hey, are your boobs all saggy now?”
- Rafe finds Grace crying in the bathroom after her fight with Adam and says, “Shit, I’m sorry, I’m so bad when people cry.”
- When Grace asks Maya how school is going, Maya answers, “Sucks donkey balls.”
- Joaquin likes “Ana’s no-bullshit approach to therapy.”
- Joaquin thinks that his younger self was “a fucking idiot who fucked everything up.”
- Maya says, “Everything is so fucking fucked up.”
- Joaquin was scared of being adopted because he thought his birth mom would come back for him. He says, “It’s stupid, I know, it’s so fucking stupid. I was such an idiot.”
- Claire freaks out after her parents question her about her relationship with Rafe, and says “If I can’t move forward and like someone and make friends and, God forbid, fall in love again, then I don’t understand why I gave up my baby in the first place!” She ends the argument by saying, “And you can tell Elaine from down the street that what I do is none of her damn business.”
- After Maya continues to annoy Grace while driving, Grace says, “Maya, I swear to God.”
- Maya jokes with Grace about why she got grounded, saying “I snuck out last week to practice devil worship with these kids I met in a cornfield.”
- Maya remembers how Lauren cried after her fish died. Maya “would still swear on a stack of Bibles that she hadn’t touched that creepy, scaly thing. Lauren was paranoid and a terrible fish parent, that was all.”
- When Grace dips her fries in mayonnaise, Rafe says, “Mayonnaise, it’s the devil’s condiment.”
- Jessica says, “Oh. Thank God ” after she learns that Grace has great parents.
by Matthew Perkey