A photography-class assignment on the meaning of family prompts Maude, an adopted high school senior in Florida, to learn about her deceased birth mother, Claire.
Maude’s Indian-American BFF, Treena, attends Florida State University, which Claire attended and where Maude might apply. Parental permission secured, the white teen visits Treena, who promises to help; but partying, drinking, and hanging with her new boyfriend means she’s not there for Maude. Luckily, Treena’s dorm mate, an appealing Star Wars nerd, steps in and joins Maude’s quest, which leads to Claire’s high school, teachers, friends, foes, and family. Each discovery forces Maude to re-examine her image of Claire, as she also does with Treena. Maude’s high-concept struggle to condense a process into one snapshot has depth and pathos, but it is undermined by the incomplete portrait of adoption. A bright, artistic, edgy teen from a troubled background, Claire elicits Maude’s compassion, along with repulsion and relief at having been adopted by better parents. Maude expresses no sense of deep personal loss. After all, her affluent, “fit” parents have given her a better life than her impoverished birth family could. Claire’s (atypical) death in childbirth at 18 safely removed her from the story; Maude’s goal is to understand her mother as a teen in order to complete her own story. Claire’s peers play a greater role in Maude’s search than her birth family.
Adoption entails lifelong losses along with joys, but its hard questions and nuanced complexities are airbrushed from this affluence-cushioned world. (Fiction. 12-16)