*Note, while I will try to avoid major spoilers, I sometimes won't be able to help it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

“My So-Called Family” by Courtney Sheinmel

I enjoyed Courtney Sheinmel's My So-Called Family quite a bit, but it wasn't exactly what I expected. The description in the front jacket reads:

“Leah Hoffman-Ross just moved to New York and she wants her new friends to think she's a typical thirteen-year-old.  But Leah has a secret: She doesn't have a father; she has a donor.  Before Leah was born, her mother went to Lyon's Reproductive Services and picked Donor 730.  Now Leah has a stepfather and a little brother, and her mom thinks that they should be all the family Leah needs.

“Despite her attempts to fit in and be normal, Leah can't help but feel like something is missing.  When she finds a link to the Lyon's Sibling Registry, Leah has to see if she has any half siblings.  And when she discovers that one of the other kids from Donor 730 is a girl her age, Leah will do anything to meet her- even if she has to hide it from everybody else.

“Debut author Courtney Sheinmel puts a contemporary spin on a timeless question in this heartfelt novel about what makes a family.”

Upon reading this, I made the assumption that this book was solely the story of Leah's journey to find out more about her half siblings and possibly search for the father she has never known.  Instead, it focuses on her new friendships upon moving, her relationship with her brother Charlie and somewhat on her mother's writing career.  We get to see her friend Avery's family struggle with her older brother's college decision and acceptance in addition to following Leah through her journey of finding her half siblings.  When I first started writing this review, I felt that the book wandered a bit too much and didn't focus enough on what was promised in the description  However, as I'm sitting here analyzing it a bit more I'm thinking about the last line “Courtney Sheinmel puts a contemporary spin on a timeless question in this heartfelt novel about what makes a family.”  Throughout the course of the book, we are introduced to Leah's relationship with her mother, stepfather, and half-brother.  We also follow her as she makes new friends in New York.  And lastly, we find out whether or not she finds any half-siblings.  

Sheinmel makes it very clear that it is sharing the same blood and genes do not necessary make you a family.  Family can be your closest friends or your neighbors, as well as those you are related to.  Sheinmel's book illustrates that well.  Leah's family extends beyond those she is immediately related to and those she has grown up around.  Upon writing this review, I like this book even more than when I finished it.  I recommend it to readers around 10 or so and up (but I would suggest parents be available as their children read this, since some of the subject matter will likely spark questions from their young reader). 

In addition I also recommend  another of Sheinmel's books, Positively, a book about a girl named Emmy who is HIV positive and has to move in with her father and step-mother after her mother passes away from the same disease.

Overall I was very happy that I picked up this book and will likely read more books by this author.

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