Review by Deb Czajkowski
Thirty-five-year-old Nina Popkin is the daughter and only child of school teachers Francis and Josephine Popkin. Today Nina would say “was.” Now orphaned, Nina feels she has been left again. Her father died when she was young, her husband, Dan, left her for another woman less than a year after they were married, and today cancer claimed her mother’s life. But there’s also that first leaving: Nina’s birth parents.
That she was adopted was no secret. Nina also knew that Frank and Josephine desperately wanted her and dearly loved her. But growing up in their quiet, strict home, with not even one extended family member, Nina has always felt alone, like she didn’t belong. And Nina wants to belong ─at least to someone. Above all, though, Nina wants a family story, family history.
So now, with the blessing of Josephine and the name of someone who can help her, Nina begins the search for her birth mother. Easy-peasy? Hardly! Her first obstacle is the law that forbids the adoption agency from disclosing any information at all about her birth parents. However, that same law does not include siblings. And Nina has one ─ her very own blood sister!
Lindy McIntyre is so not interested in being found! Lindy already has five siblings with her adoptive family and she does not need nor want another one. Not even one who shares her blood. And Lindy certainly, most definitely, is not interested in searching for their birth mother.
Phoebe: the woman who gave birth to Nina and Lindy and also gave them up for adoption. Her story is hers alone to tell.
Easy-going, ever cheerful Carter Sanborn rescues Nina from a car-eating snowbank and is now attempting to also rescue her heart. At first Nina finds his Life-is-always-good!/Let it happen! attitude equal parts endearing and infuriating. For grounded Nina, that scale soon tips (way) more to infuriating than endearing ─not good news for Carter!
Fifteen-year-old Indigo (a.k.a. Kayla) is as different from her father, Carter, as she can be, with her combat boots, torn mini skirt, and haphazard, purple-tinted hair. Add to that her sassy rain-cloud, My-life-is-not-good! attitude…. Well, you get the picture. Ah, but that’s just one picture of Indigo. You really do need to see more to get the full, uh, picture!
Finding one’s birth family is tricky business. It must surely be kept in mind that sometimes people don’t want to be found (hint: sister). And when people disappear, they just may not want to be forced to reappear (hint: birth mother). Do you keep trying, keep pushing? Even when those same people keep pushing you away? What to do, what to do? Tricky business indeed.
Is author Maddie Dawson’s novel The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness a great story for people who’ve been adopted? Absolutely. Is The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness a great story for people who have not been adopted? Absolutely! I was not adopted, but I loved Dawson’s telling of Nina’s ─and Lindy’s and Phoebe’s─ stories. Dawson’s stage-setting prologue with its cliff-hanger ending captivated me from the very beginning, and her laugh-out-loud humor kept me constantly turning the pages. I loved how the chapters vacillated between the main characters, being told at each point from that character’s perspective, saying exactly what she was really thinking ─like “Did I say that out loud?” It made me feel like somehow I was actually sitting right there with every one of them, listening to every word.
How realistic is The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness? In my opinion, it’s as realistic as your family story or mine. Adopted verses not adopted is really not the story here. It’s finding your place in life, and that includes all of us. Find a place for The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness in your life. I predict you’ll be happy you did.
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About the author:
Maddie Dawson grew up in the South, born into a family of outrageous storytellers. Her various careers as a substitute English teacher, department-store clerk, medical-records typist, waitress, cat sitter, wedding-invitation-company receptionist, nanny, day-care worker, electrocardiogram technician, and Taco Bell taco maker were made bearable by thinking up stories as she worked. Today she lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with her husband. She’s the bestselling author of four previous novels: The Opposite of Maybe, The Stuff That Never Happened, Kissing Games of the World, and A Piece of Normal.
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