English teacher Krill addresses engaging what-if questions about parenthood in her debut novella.
Elizabeth and Andrew conceive their children via in vitro fertilization due to a spinal cord injury that Andrew received as a teenager. After their two children, Michelle and Stephen, are born, the couple faces the decision of what to do with the 10 remaining, unused embryos. Elizabeth is eager to help other couples with fertility issues, but Andrew, due in part to his unspoken homophobia, has reservations about adoption; nonetheless, they make the embryos available to others, with the option to contact them in case of medical necessity. Nearly two decades later, fissures in Elizabeth and Andrew’s seemingly perfect family appear as Michelle and Stephen exhibit troublesome adolescent behavior. Meanwhile, a few hours away, teenage twins Brian and Caroline have good relationships with their lesbian mothers, but athlete Caroline is puzzled by recurring headaches and fatigue. Later, Stephen finds a letter from a social worker requesting permission to give the family’s contact information to the mothers of biological siblings that he never knew he had. Caroline’s health crisis, and the desire of Elizabeth, Michelle, and Stephen to assist her, forces the families to confront repressed issues; in the process, Andrew reveals long-kept secrets about his youth and how he acquired his injury. Beautifully told and deeply affecting, this novella personifies an ethical issue in very simple terms. It uses the alternating points of view of significant characters to give them depth, and each of them is engaging in his or her own ways. Only Jessie and Allison, Brian and Caroline’s mothers, are less well-developed. The depiction of Andrew’s complex feelings prevents him from being wholly unsympathetic. However, the meaning of the author’s repeated references to “old souls” may not be entirely clear to all readers.
An often involving story that memorably explores multiple social issues.