In this debut novel, a couple fosters a 7-year-old girl in hopes of adopting her, but trauma in the girl’s past makes her future with the new family unclear.
Memoirist Howard (The Lost Night, 2005) details the life of a well-meaning 40-something Northern California couple. “It starts with a face in a binder.…[It] says they need families that ‘take risks,’ but I won’t notice this language until it’s too late,” the narrator begins. The couple, artist Sebastian (who becomes identified, gratingly, as “Daddy” for the duration of the book) and his wife, the unnamed narrator, foster Maresa, a precocious girl with big dimples and an even bigger personality. Maresa’s entry into the household is difficult because she knows only pain and abandonment; like many kids in the foster system, she already has several failed placements behind her. The wife writes the novel as a letter to a future Maresa, expressing her own inadequacy and guilt. The novel is a study in the frustrations of the foster-care system and the shaky foundations beneath new families. Howard challenges current ideas about caring for kids with trauma and the conflicting advice about adoption for parents who are just doing the best they can. After a particularly defiant and violent scene from Maresa that triggers experts to blame the foster parents, Sebastian says, sarcastically, “I guess the New View is that you have to dig up some repressed trauma so that the onus is on you?” Though the novel can read at times like a catalog of indignities and frustrations rather than a story, its underlying restlessness eventually begins to coalesce into a driving question: Will Maresa be able to remain with her foster parents forever? “I want to be connected to both of you, at the same time,” the wife writes. “Why is the geometry not working?”
Realistic but often prioritizes the realism over the story.