In Eklund’s debut novel, a middle-aged cancer patient discovers a startling secret about her family while searching for information about her past.
After enduring an abusive childhood and, later, her own divorce, Jenna Waring pursued a successful career in social work; raised her son, Drew; and got happily married to her high school sweetheart. Now, as she approaches 50, her life is upended by a devastating diagnosis: stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As she begins the process of arranging treatment, telling the news to her family, and coming to terms with her condition, she’s buoyed by a new source of happiness—a previously unknown 3-year-old granddaughter named Violet. Jenna made the discovery through a DNA-sequencing service that listed them as close relatives. After corresponding with Violet’s mother, Maddy Kansel, Jenna learns that Violet was conceived using an anonymous sperm donor, who turns out to be Jenna’s son. Jenna has tremendous love for her son, but because of Drew’s reserved nature and difficulty expressing emotion, their relationship is somewhat delicate. Out of fear about Maddy’s motives, Drew forbids his mother from having any further contact with Violet. Jenna must now determine whether she can have a relationship with her granddaughter without driving her son away while knowing that her time left with her family is limited. Over the course of the novel, hints of magical realism, in the form of prophetic dreams, lend the story a mysterious quality and draw focus to considerations of the afterlife. Eklund’s treatment of the moral, social, and legal implications of DNA-sharing technology is also balanced and thought-provoking. Even more striking is the presentation of Jenna’s condition; her progression of emotions, from dismay to resolve and much in between, is relatable, and she retains an admirable humor and warmth of character throughout. The supporting cast, which includes Jenna’s husband, Sam; her best friend, Eric; and her beloved sister, Mary Grace, is fairly well conceived. However, the most stirring scenes are those between Jenna and Violet, as the elder woman rediscovers some of herself in her young granddaughter.
A novel that carefully presents an unusual situation, offering plenty of poignant moments along the way.