On the outside, Marian appears to have a comfortable, glossy life. Living in New York, she is the producer and writer of a successful TV drama, in a steady relationship with handsome TV-network-boss Richard and has a designer lifestyle - shopping and eating in exclusive places with similarly successful friends. Her main worries are that Richard hasn’t yet proposed, and that her show’s stars are fighting amongst themselves and threatening to derail the programme. She is about to be reminded of just how complicated life can be.
Kirby is eighteen years old, and on the verge of making one of the most important decisions of her life to date; whether she should go to college. Her grades are OK but not brilliant, and she doesn’t have the charm or natural talent of her sister Charlotte. When her parents disapprove of her choices and question the reasons behind her behaviour, the issue of her adoption comes to the surface. She’s eighteen; she’s now eligible to find her birth mother. She lies to her parents and travels to New York, pressing the buzzer of Marian’s apartment.
Where We Belong follows Marian and Kirby alternately, as birth mother is faced with the daughter she gave up for adoption eighteen years before. Marian has kept her daughter’s birth and existence a secret from almost everyone, and the arrival threatens to bring her carefully constructed world crashing down around her. Kirby’s life is about to change too. Her family is loving and supportive but has a set way of doing things, and Kirby feels out of place. She hopes that by finding her birth parents she will begin to feel like she fits in.
I liked the style of this book. Where one meeting or conversation was told from the point of view of Kirby, the next chapter recapped it from Marian’s perspective and visa versa - giving both opinions without slowing the story down. Having Kirby and Marian as equal heroines in this sense worked well, and while they meet early on in the novel, there is a missing part of the picture that I really wanted resolved and which made it hard to put the book down. Part of Marian’s story is told in flashback, to the night she gets together with Conrad, what happens afterwards and the shock of finding out she’s pregnant. I enjoyed the flashbacks – there was a real sense of the end of summer, a time when everything changed so drastically – the sudden, traumatic loss of Marian’s youth in a way she would never have foreseen.
Both Kirby and Marian are strong characters, and I particularly liked Kirby’s fire and determination, but I felt that something was missing. Lots of the issues and feelings around adoption are explored; how the teenage Marian comes to a decision and the moment she has to give her daughter up to her adoptive parents, and how, eighteen years later, the adoptive parents deal with the birth-mother being brought into their lives. But when it came to Kirby arriving on Marian’s doorstep, I felt that Marian’s feelings weren’t as deep as they could have been, some conversations didn’t get as difficult as I thought they would, and that gave me the impression of Marian being a bit cold.
The differences between Marian’s lifestyle and Kirby’s upbringing are stark – from designer vest-tops to $100 prom dresses - and the contrast demonstrates how Marian’s decision changed the course of her daughter’s life completely, but also that there is a place for both sets of parents, regardless of wealth, education or lifestyle. Marian’s relationship with her mother and father is also explored, both in flashback and in the present day, and I found it interesting that both Marian and Kirby seem to be real daddy’s girls, and the mothers slightly less easy to deal with – something that is echoed later on in the story.
Where we Belong was an interesting, compelling story about adoption, families rebuilding bridges, and the nature of secrets. The story kept me gripped and I was rooting for Kirby to have her uncertainties resolved, and the supporting cast were full of quirks and warmth – Kirby’s adoptive father Art’s awkwardness on the phone with Marian had me laughing out loud. Also, the book has a wonderful, enigmatic hero in Conrad who, despite not being a constant throughout the novel, was my favourite character. I just wish there had been a bit more emotion between birth-mother and daughter which, while it may have made it a more difficult read, would have given more credibility and depth to the situation and the main characters.