THE HOW & THE WHY by Cynthia Hand


Age Range: 12 - 18
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An adopted teen and her birth mother share their stories.

Hand (co-author: 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. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-06-269316-7
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2019