Saturday, February 15, 2014
Book Review: Daughters for a Time by Jennifer Handford
Author: Jennifer Handford
Enjoyment Rating: ***
This book would be rated: PG-13 for adult situations, language, unsexy sex
More than anything else, Helen Francis wants to be a mother. She lost her own mother to ovarian cancer when was a teenager (and her father abandoned Helen and her sister, Claire, shortly after that), and she thinks that more than her marriage or her successful career as a pastry chef, becoming a mother will show that she has overcome the challenges of her early life. The only problem? She can't have a baby. Helen has tried everything, and her husband Tim, seems eager to move on to the next logical step-- adopting a baby. But it's not that easy for Helen, who feels like she's giving up on herself if she chooses adoption.
Eventually, Helen and Tim adopt a baby girl, Samantha, from China. Helen believes that now her life will be perfect. She and Claire can raise their daughters together, and they will both have the strong families they were deprived as children. However, Claire is soon diagnosed with the same cancer that killed their mother, and Helen has to readjust her life's path.
I listened to this book on audio, and it was eminently listenable. I found myself listening in the shower and the car and everywhere else I went. But that doesn't mean I necessarily liked it. As an adoptive mom, I really enjoy reading stories about adoption, and particularly like reading stories where the motivations to adopt are different from my own, sort of nebulous ones. For me, choosing to adopt a child didn't have the same emotional implications as it has for many families who turn to adoption after experiencing infertility. So I found that part of the story quite interesting. It was obvious to me that Handford, or someone she knows well, adopted from China sometime before 2007. The problem for me is that the adoption portion of the book seemed to be set in 2011 or 2012, and by then the process was very different. So the nitpicky side of me wanted her to get that right. But she did a great job capturing the details, the smells, and the sights of China. I could even pinpoint the hotel she stayed in when she was in Guangzhou (Holiday Inn Shifu?). After Helen, Tim, and Samantha return from China, I wanted the story to go do different places than it did. I loved the side-story of her reconciliation with her father, but I hated that Claire soon got sick with incurable cancer. Even though I knew it was coming, it felt manipulative. And while I enjoyed the way Handford handled the struggle the family went through in the ensuing year, I felt like the final events of the story (which I won't give away) were implausible based on some of the actions the characters took early in the novel. Overall, it was a book I'm glad I listened to, and one that I enjoyed, but I was left with a lingering feeling of emotional manipulation, like I've felt after reading Jodi Picoult novels.