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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Book Review

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

When 16-year-old Grace learns she’s pregnant, she goes online and discovers the baby is currently the size of a peach. She privately refers to her child as Peach from then on. Grace’s disinterested ex-boyfriend has moved on. The night he is accepting a crown as homecoming king, Grace gives birth to their daughter. She knows she can’t care for Peach alone, so her supportive parents have helped her make arrangements to place her baby with an adoptive family.

Grace experiences the rejection and scorn of her boyfriend and peers, the anxiety of picking the right family for Peach and the excruciating emptiness that follows the relinquishment. In the midst of her sorrow, she wonders if her own birth mother ever felt this way about her. With her parents’ help, she sets out to find her birth mother, Melissa. Little information is available about her through the adoption agency, but Grace does discover she has two half-siblings.

Grace learns about Maya first. Maya is a sarcastic 15-year-old lesbian from an upper-class family. Her parents tried for 10 years to conceive before adopting, and they became pregnant shortly after bringing Maya home. Maya loves her supportive parents and slightly younger sister, Lauren. But her parents fight constantly, and she is painfully aware how different she looks from the rest of her family. She remembers having to answer classmates’ questions about the whereabouts of her real mommy and recalls their suggestions that her parents probably love their biological child most.

Maya’s parents invite Grace and her parents for dinner. It is an awkward evening, until Grace and Maya escape and talk alone. After meeting up a few more times and communicating online, they learn they also have an older brother. Seventeen-year-old Joaquin is part Mexican and has spent most of his life in the foster care system. He has spent the past two years with adoring foster parents, who recently asked him if he would become their son. Joaquin loves the couple, but he has learned not to trust people too fully or hope for too much good in life. His conviction that he isn’t good enough for anyone has caused him to break up with his beloved girlfriend, Birdie, and turn down his would-be parents’ request. When his two sisters email and introduce themselves, he agrees to meet them.

Despite some vast personality differences, the three bond over physical and preferential similarities. Maya is forthright about her girlfriend, Claire. But Grace is too afraid of her siblings’ judgement to mention she recently had a baby. Joaquin, too, has a secret about a time in childhood when he accidentally hurt a foster sibling. He was subsequently rejected by the family who had initially planned to adopt him.

Grace tells the others she wants to look for their mother, but Maya and Joaquin flatly refuse. Grace meets a new classmate named Rafe and discovers she can tell him the secrets she’s afraid to share with her siblings. She tells him all about Peach, the adoptive parents she chose and how she wonders if she can be part of her daughter’s life without having her heart broken.

Maya and Lauren secretly struggle as their parents’ constant fighting turns into a separation. The girls begin to find liquor all over the house and realize their mom is an alcoholic. When the girls find their collapsed, bloody mother on the floor, they call 911. Dad gets Mom into a rehab center. The stress and uncertainty of relationships begins to plague Maya, and she picks fights with Claire to drive her away. Claire pleads for Maya to open up and share these struggles, but Maya forces a breakup.

Joaquin continues to meet and bond with his sisters. On his own, he struggles with his haunting memories of foster care and his fears of rejection and abandonment. He continues to meet with a counselor he’s been seeing. While his foster parents are sad that he won’t accept their adoption offer, they repeatedly demonstrate their love and faithfulness to him.

The siblings eventually share their deepest secrets with one another. Each receives unexpected love and affirmation from the other two. When Maya and Joaquin learn about Grace’s baby, they suddenly understand her compulsion to meet their birth mother. Using an old letter Maya found in her house, they make a road trip to Melissa’s last known address.

They’re met at the door by their aunt, who informs them Melissa died many years earlier. Aunt Jessica weeps with joy to see them all together and answers their questions as best she can. She tells Joaquin how much Melissa loved his father and how devastated she was when Joaquin Sr. and his family were deported. Jessica offers reassurance that Melissa also loved Joaquin desperately.

Melissa had a string of ill-fated relationships and life circumstances afterward, resulting in Grace’s and Maya’s births and the children’s removal from her custody. She died in her 20s. Jessica gives Joaquin a key to a safe deposit box, where he finds a stash of photos of him and his parents when he was a baby. These are an amazing gift to him after so many years with no record of his early life.

After the kids’ road trip, each is more able to go on with life in a healthy way. Grace braves a visitation with her daughter. Maya makes up with Claire and her now-sober mother. Joaquin accepts his foster parents’ offer of adoption and decides to attend a college in town to stay with them. Aunt Jessica, Maya, Grace and their families and friends, including Claire and Rafe, celebrate with Joaquin at his adoption party.

Christian Beliefs

Maya’s non-Catholic parents send her and Lauren to a Catholic school because it’s the best private school in their area. Maya says they’re basically sinning their way through religious school.

Other Belief Systems

None

Authority Roles

Maya's adoptive parents, Grace’s adoptive parents and Joaquin’s current foster parents are all loving and highly supportive of their children. Maya’s parents fight a lot and plan to divorce. After Maya’s mom spends time in rehab for her alcoholism, it appears the parents may reconcile with one another.

Joaquin’s foster parents are eager to adopt him but don’t want him to feel pressured. The kids learn from their biological Aunt Jessica that their birth mother died many years earlier. Jessica remains in touch with the kids and shares how much their biological mother loved them.

Joaquin’s edgy, sometimes foul-mouthed therapist helps him learn to let people into his heart. Peach’s adoptive parents send Grace a warm letter, thanking Grace for her amazing gift to them. They share photos and encourage Grace to visit.

Profanity/Violence

The Lord’s name is used in vain a number of times. Words including the f-word, s---, a--hole, d---, sucks, h--- and d--n appear frequently.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Grace becomes pregnant with her first boyfriend’s child. Classmates refer to her using names such as slut. Maya asks her if she had good sex with her baby’s father.

Joaquin thinks about how it felt to kiss Birdie. He later sees her kiss another guy in an effort to make Joaquin jealous.

Maya kisses, hugs and talks about making out with her girlfriend, Claire. The two share a deep relationship characterized by trust and forgiveness, despite Maya’s struggles to open her heart and risk being hurt. She says she’s glad to have been born a lesbian. Her adoptive father is so proud of her homosexuality, he puts a rainbow sticker on his car, gives money to PFLAG and runs a 10k with Maya in support of the organization.

Joaquin, Grace and Lauren are not shocked by Maya’s homosexuality and urge her to get back together with Claire when the girls break up. Grace is glad Maya’s parents are supportive of her sexuality and that her sister isn’t in an awful, oppressive home.

When Maya first meets Grace, she thinks her sister might be the type who would wait for her wedding night to lose her virginity. She briefly imagines Grace reading magazine articles about how to give blow jobs.

Rafe teases that Grace is sexually harassing him at work. Maya’s mom often accuses her dad of having an affair. Maya doesn’t know whether it’s true, but she doesn’t care as long as it would make him happy. Joaquin’s foster dad jokingly calls Joaquin a perv.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: The kids lie to their parents and each other, often to avoid judgement or hurting someone else emotionally.

Drugs/Alcohol: Maya and Claire sometimes smoke pot together. Maya and Grace share a joint and get high at Maya’s house. Maya and her adoptive sister, Lauren, discover their mother is an alcoholic. Their mom is hospitalized and sent to rehab after an alcohol-related fall. Joaquin recalls the unpleasantness of living with an alcoholic foster parent.

Foster care: This emotional story delves into the meaning of family and the value of a support system through various lives. It offers a look into the hearts of adopted children and a window into the heartbreaking experiences many foster kids endure. Characters learn to accept and forgive one another and open themselves up in spite of past hurts and fears.

Racism: Rafe and Joaquin are part Mexican. Joaquin believes his sisters were adopted, where he wasn’t, partially because they were white. Both young men mention the difficulties of their Mexican appearances because they don’t speak Spanish or follow some of the traditions found with first- or second-generation Mexicans. Some of Joaquin’s previous foster parents demonstrated prejudice and ignorance because of his appearance.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

15 and older

Author

Robin Benway

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Released

On Video

Year Published

2017

Awards

National Book Award, 2017; New York Times Notable Children’s Book, 2017 and others

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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