Shanthi Sekaran * G.P. Putnam’s Sons * January 10, 2017 * 480 Pages
Advanced Reader Copy provided through Amazon Vine.
Soli Valdez is eighteen and desperate to leave Mexico. Bored with the day-to-day monotony of her quiet existence, she’s ready for an adventure. So she makes a plan to meet up with her older cousin who lives in Berkeley, California. If she can just make it across the border, her cousin assures her there will be a job and a place to stay waiting for her.
Soli does make it to California, but not before enduring, well, a lot. When she finally arrives at Silvia’s doorstep, she is dirty, beaten, abused…and pregnant. Silvia demands Soli abort the baby, but Soli refuses. Nine months later, her son, Ignacio, is born, and Soli is happy–still existing precariously, but absolutely in love with her son.
Thirty-something Kavya Reddy, on the other hand, is not so happy. Sure, her life is stable and fulfilling in some ways. She’s married to a man she loves, and she has a dependable job. But she’s desperate for a child and unable to get pregnant. Even after months of fertility treatments, nothing. Finally, when she can take it no longer, she and her husband, Rishi, decide to pursue adoption.
It’s at this point that the lives of the two women intersect. Kavya and Rishi are ready to begin the process of adopting a baby girl, when Kavya spots toddler Ignacio at the adoption center. She feels a connection with him immediately and asks about fostering him. Despite being warned by the adoption agency that Ignacio’s mother–currently locked in a detention facility for illegal immigrants about to be deported–is very motivated to regain custody of her son, Kavya and Rishi end up taking Ignacio home with them. As you might imagine, this does not deter Soli from getting her child back one bit.
I loved and hated this book. I felt about it the same way I felt about The Language of Flowers: it is so exquisitely written, but also ruthlessly, unbearably sad. Honestly, about 100 pages in, when I understood where things were going, I had to put the book down for a couple days. I just wasn’t ready emotionally to go there, you know? The things Soli goes through… Kavya, too… And poor Ignacio caught in the middle… To be so powerless is an awful thing.
Throughout the book, I felt for both women. Author Sekaran spends so much time developing their backstories, motivations, and perspectives–Ignacio isn’t even born until page 176!–that I ended up caring for Soli and Kavya deeply, equally. It’s a real testament to Sekaran’s writing abilities that I had no choice but to empathize with both sides. Even the ending, though sad, felt whole and satisfying to me. It wasn’t tidy or unrealistically cheery, but it made sense and honored the characters and the story perfectly.
Ultimately, this is a beautiful book–rich and layered and complex. I think it’s destined to be a book club favorite.