Shortly after her family moves to a new town, Leah befriends classmates at her new school. That fresh start, along with the family tree assignment given to her little brother, prompts Leah to once again wonder if her donor had any more children. Thanks to an online match system - which she keeps secret from her mom - Leah finds other kids who were fathered by Donor 730. She quickly bonds with a girl her age named Samantha. She is comforted and contented by meeting her half-siblings. She doesn't search for them in an effort to upset her mother, but rather to find what she feels is a missing piece of herself, her history.
I really liked the fact that Leah loved and valued her mother, her stepfather, and her half-brother. She was grateful for her family and never pushed them away. She was frustrated and confused at times, but she was never mean nor difficult on purpose. Instead of having a rebellion or acting out, she truly had a search, something she wanted and needed to do for herself. When she bends the rules, and again when secrets are revealed, she apologizes and she tells the truth.
Sheinmel's young characters sound and act their age. Dialogue between them rings true, as do Leah's thoughts. Each of Leah's new friends - Avery, Brenna and Callie, and, later, her half-sister Samantha - has her own personality and family. Even Avery's college-bound brother Chase factors into the story, as Leah watches him interact with his sister, his father, and his girlfriend, Lizzie. I really enjoyed Leah's stream-of-consciousness narration. She felt so real, so honest. I was utterly delighted by her younger brother. Carefree five-year-old Charlie says the sweetest, smartest things, a combination of intelligence and imagination.
My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel gets my recommendation - and my appreciation. This is a great story about family values and valuing your family. This notable debut has earned a spot on my Best Books of 2008 list.
My favorite quotes from the book include:
Sometimes you know you're about to change you life with just one movement, like the last time I turned off my light in my bedroom at the pink house, or when I saw Mom slip a ring on Simon's finger on their wedding day. That's how I felt when I clicked the link to "Lyon's Sibling Registry." I moved the mouse so the cursor was over the words and I pressed my finger down. - Page 46
Now that I had a secret, I was noticing the secrets everywhere. I couldn't tell anyone what Mom was writing about, and Chase didn't want to talk about Lizzie. Now I wasn't allowed to tell Brenna and Callie about apple picking, and I didn't want to tell Avery what I was starting to think about Chase. My stomach hurt from eating so many apples and from all of the secrets. - Page 98
I wondered what would happen if I just opened my mouth and screamed. Right there in the middle of class. It would be so easy to do. No one was stopping me. I wondered what it would sound like. I don't think I've ever just opened my mouth and screamed like that. [ . . . ] Instead I just sat there with my lips pressed together. - Page 139
"No family is 'normal,'" Samantha said. - Page 181
Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Interview: Courtney Sheinmel (2009)
Interview: Courtney Sheinmel (2008)
Book Review: Positively by Courtney Sheinmel
Book Review: Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
Family: Courtney Sheinmel
Hope: Courtney Sheinmel
Read my SparkNotes Literature feature article: The Most Promising October Releases for Teens.