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The Other Mother

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A page-turning generational saga about a young man's search for a parent he never knew, and a moving portrait of motherhood, race, and the truths we hide in the name of family

Jenry Castillo is a musical prodigy, raised by a single mother in Miami. He arrives at Brown University on a scholarship—but also to learn more about his late father, Jasper Patterson, a famous ballet dancer who died tragically when Jenry was two. On his search, he meets his estranged grandfather, Winston Patterson, a legendary professor of African American history and a fixture at the Ivy League school, who explodes his world with one question: Why is Jenry so focused on Jasper, when it was Winston’s daughter, Juliet, who was romantically involved with Jenry’s mother? Juliet is the parent he should be looking for—his other mother.

Revelation follows revelation as each member of Jenry’s family steps forward to tell the story of his origin, uncovering a web of secrecy that binds this family together even as it keeps them apart. Moving seamlessly between the past and the present, The Other Mother is a daring, ambitious novel that celebrates the complexities of love and resilience—masterfully exploring the intersections of race, class, and sexuality; the role of biology in defining who belongs to whom; and the complicated truth of what it means to be a family.

Unfurling in the most surprising and satisfying of ways, revelation follows revelation as each member of Jenry’s family peels back layers of a story that is at once deeply familiar—of first love, betrayal, and the selfishness of youth, of the beautiful, complicated love between parents and children—and also compelling in its centering of queer lives and people of color.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published May 3, 2022

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About the author

Rachel M. Harper

4 books92 followers
RACHEL M. HARPER is the author of three novels: THE OTHER MOTHER, upcoming from Counterpoint Press; THIS SIDE OF PROVIDENCE, shortlisted for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence; and BRASS ANKLE BLUES, a Borders’ Original Voices Award finalist and Target Breakout Book. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has been widely published and anthologized. Harper has received fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell, and is on the faculty at Spalding University’s School of Writing. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 175 reviews
Profile Image for luce (that loser crying on the n° 2 bus).
1,437 reviews4,049 followers
May 28, 2022
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3 ½ stars

“Yes, of course. It is always him they want to know about—the father, not the other mother.”

The Other Mother is an affecting and nuanced multigenerational tale unearthing long-buried family histories. The author's interrogation of motherhood challenges the heteronormative archetype of the nuclear family, as she focuses on the experiences, choices, and parenting of single-women and same-gender couples. Throughout the course of the novel, readers will witness how parental love is not dictated by blood and the complexities that arise from that. Within these pages, motherhood is a multivalent term, one that changes from mother to mother. The two mothers that are at the chore of the story are flawed and imperfect individuals, who make mistakes believing that they are doing what’s best for their child. The author however is never not sympathetic towards them, nor does she condone their behaviour, allowing instead her other characters within her narrative, and readers as well, to reach their own conclusion about some of their choices. We are made to understand their states of mind, the events leading to them making those choices or the circumstances that aggravated certain ‘bad’ habits. The ‘democratic’ structure of the novel allows for all of the people connected to Jenry Castillo to be given a perspective, to give their side of the story and the rift between his two families, the Pattersons’ and the Castillos’.

“What Jenry does know is that he doesn’t belong here, which is how he’s felt about almost every place he’s been. Call it the mark of illegitimacy. But somehow this campus feels different. He’s come here to find something; more specifically, to find someone, which alone gives his presence a purpose. He has come to find his father.”

The narrative opens with Jenry starting his 1st year at Brown University after earning a music scholarship. Jenry was raised by his mother, Marisa, a nurse. While thanks to his grandparents he feels a connection to his Cuban heritage, neither they nor Marisa can fully understand his experiences as the only Black kid in his neighbourhood or fill the absence of his father, Jasper, who died when he was two. He has learnt that his paternal grandfather, Winston Patterson, is none other than a renowned professor of African American history at Brown, so once on campus Jenry sets out to find him, wanting to know more about the kind of person Jasper was. When he does speak to Winston, the encounter is far from the bittersweet reunion between two estranged family members. Winston seems not particularly interested or surprised by his estranged grandchild’s existence, and is unwilling to reveal more about Jasper. In fact, he asks why Jenry is so focused on Jasper when it was his sister, Juliet, who was involved with Marisa. Upon learning this Jenry is shocked and confused, angry at Marisa for having hidden the truth from him, and unsure what it even means that at one point in his life he had two mothers. The following sections, focusing on Marisa, Juliet, Jasper, Winston, and Victor, Jenry's maternal grandfather, give us a retrospective of what occurred between Marisa and Juliet, their love story and the eventual dissolution of their relationship. We know from the start that Marisa took Jenry away from Juliet without any warning, leaving her with no way of contacting them. Since then Juliet has struggled with addiction and has only in recent years been able to find a stable relationship and job. Her career as a musician seems to have gone astray soon after Marisa left, leaving Juliet bereft and alone. And what role did Winston and Victor play in their daughters' stories? Both men disapproved of their relationship and their ‘unconventional’ family, but, did they eventually try to do what’s right by them and Jenry?
I really appreciated the uneasy questions this narrative raises in terms of doing right by others and yourself. If you do something terrible (whether it is taking them away from a parent, pressuring them academically, or forcing them to deny who they are) but you have convinced yourself it is the best thing for your child, can you and should you be forgiven?
The narrative shows the many ways in which parents hurt their children out of ‘love’ or because they are unable to accept them and their choices, without exonerating them or villainizing them. Other characters may blame them but thanks to the book’s structure we can’t really favour one perspective over another. If anything, the author is able to show the justifications and fabrications some of the characters make in order to justify to themselves, and others, their actions. I appreciated how imperfect and messy the characters were and the different forms of love we see in this story. The author captures the longing, heartache, and regret experienced by her characters in a melodious prose.

“The loss of him fills her body, courses through her veins. And now, as her memories replay over and over, she can’t help but feel it all—the sadness, the loss, the love she had and perhaps still has for him—flowing into her limbs, making her skin twitch, her fingers ache, till it spills from her eyes as tears.”

The uneasy character dynamics that are at play within the story were deeply compelling and enabled the author to incorporate larger discussions on gender, sexuality, race, class, motherhood, cultural and generational differences. Additionally, grief underlines much of the narrative. It may be grief at the death of a loved one (Jasper) or grief resulting from physical and emotional separation (Jenry being taken away from Juliet, the unbridgeable rift between Marisa and her mother, the distance between Juliet and Winston and eventually Jenry and Marisa). I loved much of the story and found myself particularly moved by Juliet’s portion. The author beautifully articulates her sorrow, without romanticizing her struggles or painful experiences. Initially, I found myself also feeling sympathetic towards Marisa, despite her choice to take Jenry away from Juliet. We see how unrequited love and rejection can eventually alienate you from the ‘object’ of your desire. But then in the latter portion of the book, any affection I held for Marisa perished when she behaves in a really crappy and unfair way to her son. Jenry, upon learning that she had lied to him for years, is obviously angry and upset. She is initially shown to be desperate to make amends, and I really felt for her especially given what she is going through. But then when she eventually reaches Jenry she tries to force him into forgiving her by threatening to make him leave Brown, saying that this place had clearly ‘changed’ him and he’s clearly not ready or something…and cristo dio. Wtf?! What a f*cking stronza. Really. When she said that sh*t and the narrative glosses over it I just could not move past it. It infuriated me beyond measure and soured the remainder of my reading experience. Additionally, there was a predictable soap-opera reveal that was hinted at earlier on that just made me roll my eyes. The ending sequence was tonally a lot different from the narrative so far and struck me as mawkish and really jarring.

But hey ho, I did love most of the book so I would still recommend it to others. If you are a fan of multigenerational sagas, such as the ones penned by Brit Bennett, Ann Patchett, and Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, or authors such as Hala Alyan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Danielle Evans, and Francesca Ekwuyasi, you should definitely not miss The Other Mother.
Profile Image for fatma.
922 reviews651 followers
August 23, 2022
"He wondered if time was a form of love, a way of dolling out affection in reasonable pieces, in parts small enough that you weren't aware of their size, and of what was slowly disappearing from your own form as you gave them away."

The Other Mother is, to me, a perfect novel: a masterclass in character work and prose, skillfully structured and thematically rich. It's a multigenerational family saga, one that embodies just how capacious and powerful that genre can be. In saying that this novel is a "multigenerational family saga," I'm also saying that it's able to encompass so much: the thorny and complicated family dynamics, the tangled threads that by turns connect and bind these characters together, the change and growth from one generation to the next, and the expansive sense of time and place that is facilitated by a narrative that unfolds over the course of decades. What's more, it all comes together with such impressive command; it is a real testament to Harper's skill that she is able to write a story that is so large in its scope and yet so intimate in its focus; the narrative is at once sweeping and minute, giving you access to a plethora of interconnected characters and colouring in their histories for you, but also allowing you to get to know and understand them in an incontrovertibly real and grounded way. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts"--what we get here is both a sense of the whole and of the parts, of the family entire and of the person in particular.

Part of why The Other Mother manages to so effectively balance scope with detail is because of the way it's structured. The novel is split into seven "books," each of which consists of seven chapters, and which focuses on a specific family member. We begin with Jenry, who is the linchpin of the narrative, and then branch out to the key characters connected to him: his mother, his "other mother," his uncle, his grandfather, his other grandfather, and so on. And there is not a single section in the novel that is even close to lacking in any way. Certainly, some characters are more important than others--Juliet, Jenry's "other mother," in particular is the real heart and soul of this book--but regardless of how much they shape the narrative, every one of them gets a section that fleshes out their inner life and highlights their place within the novel's core family. Usually, with stories that switch POVs from one character to the next, I tend to dread that switch because I inevitably get attached to a character and don't want to leave them for another's POV. With The Other Mother, though, that was never the case. Part of why I adored this novel is because I trusted it so much: I had complete faith in Harper's writing, and so I was never nervous going from one POV to the next. That is to say, I had complete faith in Harper's writing, and her writing never let me down. (That being said, my favourite sections were easily Juliet's and Jasper's--Jasper's especially I will probably never forget; it was that poignant.)
"She fingers a groove in the soft wood, wonders why time wears some things down, makes them softer, more malleable, yet other things like bones and brick--things that make up structures, that are designed to carry weight--become more brittle."

Implicit in everything I've praised so far about this novel is the fact that it is extraordinarily well-written. Harper writes with piercing clarity, her prose lean and lucid, allowing the story to organically and seamlessly unfold over the course of the novel. And she has such remarkable control of this story, too. A lot happens in The Other Mother--there is plenty of loss and grief, secrets and lies--and in another writer's hands, it could've easily been a morose, overwrought melodrama. Under Harper's control, though, the prose and tone are pitch perfect, measured without being cold, moving without being sentimental. Every once in a while, I read a novel that makes me want to stop for a second to process just how impressive its writing is, and The Other Mother is one of those rare novels. Scenes with dialogue--literally any conversation between these characters--are especially brilliant. You're able to glean so much about these characters by how they talk, what they take from conversations, how they interpret what's said to them, what they notice, and what they don't. The way that Harper renders the minute details of her characters' demeanour and mannerisms throughout these scenes is just exquisite; it's what I mean when I talk about the piercing clarity of the writing, and what's more, these details--observations, habits, quirks--recur throughout the novel, adding to the sense that these are fully fleshed out characters whose idiosyncrasies carry on throughout the years that the narrative spans.
"His mother used to always say, I can recover from any death but my own, but he thinks now that it's the other way around: your own death is the easy one; what befalls the people you love most in the world, that is the most difficult thing to survive."

The last thing I want to talk about is the thematic focus, because The Other Mother is incredibly sympathetic and tender in the way that it approaches its very complex exploration of family. As I'm sure is evident from the title, the novel is interested in examining what motherhood looks like outside the bounds of what's dictated by patriarchy and everything that attaches to it. In taking motherhood as one of its central thematic concerns, though, the novel is also able to more broadly interrogate and look at the family as a unit. It's interested in asking what makes a "mother," yes, but it's also interested in asking what makes a family. We look at all sorts of family dynamics, here--mothers and sons, fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters--and to be sure, none of those dynamics are ever simple or straightforward. It's a book that very much underscores how family at once drains and sustains us, holds us up and lets us down, and the story is adamant in depicting these family members as flawed. After finishing the novel, I watched a bunch of interviews where Harper talked about how she really had to take her time with this novel because she wanted to be able to embody every character's POV without judgement, regardless of whether she agreed with their decisions or not. And that's really the crux of the novel, I think: you don't agree with all these characters' decisions, but you do sympathize with all of them, and understand why they made those decisions. The beauty of the story is that you always have to hold these two things in tension: the fact that these characters hurt each other, and the fact that they do so not out of malice, but out of love.

The Other Mother is so many things, but more than anything it is a novel that is just brimming with love. Heartbreaking but hopeful, it's written so feelingly, a product of such care and nuance on the part of the author, that what you get in the end is just nothing short of brilliant. I cannot recommend it enough.
Profile Image for Jasper Sheeds.
70 reviews8 followers
May 20, 2022
This was probably the most solid book that I have read this year. Harper makes you care for and understand the characters even if you disagree with them, and you can't help but want the best for everyone involved. I was very pleased with how the family problems were resolved in the end and how while there was no fairy godmother to go back in time and fix mistakes of the past, you could really feel that the future was going to be okay. Overall the book was such a great read that left you with one question to ponder in the end:

What is it that makes someone family?
Profile Image for Samantha.
Author 11 books60 followers
August 17, 2022
Epic multigenerational family saga, non-traditional portrayals of motherhood, long-held secrets and lies, the nuances of race within families - there is a lot to appreciate here. It becomes a little too much of a soap opera, for me, and I didn't fall in love with the prose the way I like to with more literary novels. But I can see people attracted to drama easily loving this.
Profile Image for Mary Ellen Anaka.
316 reviews6 followers
March 18, 2022
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this story.
This was a very moving story about a young man in search of the father he never knew. When Jenry was two years old, his mother moved back wjth her parents, leaving his other family behind. As Jenry grew older, he asked more questions about his father. He decided to apply to the same college his mother attended and where she met Jenry's father. What he found there was more questions, more lies and the other mother he didn't remember having.
All these secrets in the name of love.
I really cared about these characters. I understood their motives for keeping Jenry in the dark all iof those years, but that doesn't mean I think they were right. This story had many layers, many stories that needed to be heard.
The author did a wonderful job unravelling the past in order for Jenry to have a future. I give this book 4 out of 5.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,147 reviews74 followers
April 27, 2022
I love the way this story is told in a chapter from each person in Jenry’s life. The novel is full of reflective thought underscored by love about what makes a family and how hurtful actions are taken in the name of love. It is a beautifully written book.

Thanks to NetGalley and Counterpoint Publishers for the ARC to read and review.
Profile Image for Signed, Iza .
293 reviews2 followers
May 18, 2022
Winston explodes Jenry's world with one question: Why is the young man so interested in his son Jasper? It was Winston's daughter, Juliet, who was his mother's lover. Juliet is the parent he should be looking for-his another mother."

#TheOtherMother was an absolute page-turner for me, and I'm urging y'all to please read this if you enjoy themes like: family Secrets and Lies, estranged relationships, mutual coparenting, Queer characters, W/W relationship, grief and forgiveness themes.

Jenry was on the search for his father (a parent he never knew), only to uncover a web of secrecy, lies, and betrayal that kept them apart as well as bound them together.

I'm trying to not give everything away, but you'd feel and see the connections + twists when you read this. Alternating between the past and the present with multiple POVs of each member of Jenry’s family as they tell the story.

Trigger Warnings for Homophobia, Racism, Classism, and Alcohol addiction (some weren't in dept.

As one who struggles with multiple POVs, this was written chronologically in numbered chapter forms for easy understanding which paves the way for intense reflection as a reader. And I appreciate that. It's slow-paced, a little bit overwhelming halfway towards the end, and probably shouldn't have been 448 pages 🙃, but the connection and seeing the family's relationship progress towards healing was refreshing.
Profile Image for Audrey.
1,658 reviews71 followers
February 5, 2022
Jenry goes to Brown University, both his parents' alma mater, to find out more information about his dead father. He meets his grandfather, and learns that his whole story, is a based on his lie. His father was a donor, and his sister, Jenry's aunt, is really his other mother. But, it's never quite that simple. Alternating in points of view and time periods, the complete picture of the complex relationships amongst all his family members emerge. And, nothing is as seems and what it means to be parent is at stake. This was a riveting read.

I received an arc from the publisher but all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Kami.
141 reviews7 followers
March 6, 2022
A beautifully written story about love, secrets, perspective and forgiveness. This novel had me hooked from the beginning and took me through Jenry's journey of finding out his truth. The truth is complex and not what he thought he was going to find. There were so many parts of this story that I could relate to through personal relationships and family stories. Emotionally, I felt the ups and downs of each of the characters and could really related to what they were thinking and feeling throughout the novel, like the people we know and love, they are all flawed. I'll say it again, the writing was beautiful. Im looking forward to recommending this book to others.
Profile Image for Court McKenzie.
12 reviews4 followers
April 29, 2022
I don't have enough words to express how much I liked this book. The only time I put it down was to work and to sleep.

On the surface, The Other Mother is a story about a young man finding out about an entire half of his family he knew nothing about. How it came to be that way, how he finds out, and the aftermath. But it's also about so much more than that: what defines family relationships, the lies people tell in an attempt to make things better for everyone else, the sacrifices we make either for our careers or for our families.

I felt so strongly connected to all the characters even when I didn't agree with what they were doing.

I received a free copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway, but I'm very glad that I did as this is not a book that fits the usual genres I like but I am so glad to have read it.
26 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2022
Fabulous! Rachel’s use of language is incredible. Anger, regret, guilt, love, sadness and hope are all intertwined in this story involving two families. Homosexuality, race, stereotypes and acceptance are integral in this story. I love the characters and they are so real. Human in their feelings and failings. A must read
Profile Image for Sarah Curtis Correll .
7 reviews10 followers
May 27, 2022
Probably the best book I’ve read in 5 years, but most definitely the best book I’ve read in 2022! I am still processing everything from this gem of a family saga. Absolutely treasured it.
May 23, 2022
Beautiful story,

This is a beautiful story about an unconventional relationship during a.time when same sex adoptions were frowned upon. Specifically in the.African American culture. Although reading the intimate paragraphs may be uncomfortable for some, I'm glad they're part of the story.
The.love, feelings and care for the characters weave.through the pages, complex as.tney.usually can be. Congrats to the author.
48 reviews1 follower
May 18, 2022
If I had to sum it up… it just kept surprising me. It’s split up by diff pov and — no spoilers — I was always gasping with each new pov!

It features so many diverse characters. Black. Cuban. Mixed race Afro latinx. Gay and lesbian characters. So. Many. Secrets! And I seriously could NOT guess what was going to happen.

It was a slowly unraveling onion with so much depth and character development. What does it mean to be family? Do you choose yourself or your family? How do you stay a family when everyone’s trying to protect each other but keeps lying? It all comes to light! Cw Homophobia, Grief, Alcoholism, Cancer, Racism, and Infidelity. This is one of my fav for the year!
Profile Image for Kimberly.
779 reviews67 followers
June 18, 2022
Thanks to Libro.FM and the publisher for the complimentary copy.

This is a beautiful multigenerational family saga about 2 families navigating grief, secrets, lies, and regret. The writing is beautiful, and the story was engrossing and tugged on so many emotional strings.

I especially loved that it's set in Providence, RI and the author included so many recognizable landmarks and locations past and present. It was super fun for this native Rhode Islander to see the Providence I know and love! I also deeply appreciate that the story centers a Black family. What a treat to see parts of myself reflected on the page!

I hope everyone picks up this book!
Profile Image for Victoria.
142 reviews16 followers
November 23, 2022
The characters in this story were so well developed, that I just couldn't help but become fully invested in their lives and what was happening with their past and present. I loved that this was told from various POVs so you really got an insight into what secrets each person was carrying and what they were going through at each step of this journey. The relationships between each and every character were extremely complicated and vastly different. I really loved seeing all of the dynamics explored and how they played out.

There is no perfect ending here that is wrapped up nicely in a bow, and I think that is the perfect way for this to be.

Overall, and incredible read and I am super happy I won this from a Goodreads Giveaway!!
Profile Image for Noelia Alonso.
762 reviews119 followers
December 20, 2022
I thought this was beautiful. A story about motherhood, family, regrets and the possibility of amending the mistakes of the past. My only issue is that I wish we had more time with some of the characters because I wanted more of their stories.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Felicetti.
Author 2 books13 followers
June 15, 2022
I meant to just glance through this--didn't have time to read it right now, but IT IS SO GOOD that I listened to it on my walks and in the car and read it whenever I had a spare minute so that I finished it in three days. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I read it on eBook as well as listened to some of it on Audible, and the different points of view are read by two different actors--really well done.
9,953 reviews122 followers
April 28, 2022
Jenry's mother Marisa has never talked to him about his father Jaspar. And there's something else she hasn't told him which is key to their story. This family saga is filled with secrets and lies all uncovered as Jenry, a freshman at Brown, meets his grandfather. It's not Jaspar, who is dead, that is the important family member but his sister Juliet, the other mother who has been unacknowledged by Marisa. This is told from the perspective of the people in Jenry's life. It's a sad story of missed chances and hidden lives. While it might have benefited from a trim here and there, it kept me reading. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
89 reviews
July 17, 2022
Pride month 2022 read. Honestly, since I don't read synopses, I didnt know this book was Sapphic until a few chapters in. Im still counting it. I'm happy I didn't read the synopsis, it would have spoiled a couple of surprises.

Each of the major characters have their own (Book) within the novel. Each with their own history and perspectives on the present.

Most of all I enjoyed the trip down East Side's memory lane.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
6 reviews
May 14, 2022

This book was,a page turner. I loved getting to know each character. By the time I was near the end, I cried. That's the kind if connection I had for those people
Profile Image for Lisa Cook.
293 reviews2 followers
August 22, 2022
Very good book about a father that has 2 children who don't believe they are loved by him all their lives
Profile Image for Jamie.
134 reviews14 followers
May 17, 2022
The Other Mother begins with Jenry, a gifted musician starting college. His desire to go to his chosen school is not just to study music, but also to learn about the legacy of his father, an acclaimed dancer. Jenry also finds his grandfather, Winston, a long-tenured history professor, at the same institution. Upon talking to Winston, Jenry learns that his father is not the person he should be looking for— rather, there is a second mother who helped raise him. This premise unfolds into a deep, heart-aching and surprising story that questions how we create and understand family. The novel takes on seven different perspectives, moving to different points of view as each key part of the story affects each main character differently.

The queer relationships in the novel rang so true to me and I realized how I hadn’t read another book that discusses the difficulties of family building and the pressure / consequences of adoption within a lesbian relationship. Harper leans into the emotional complexity of each decision of the characters, and I thought about the dimensions of love & family, the way in which we don’t allow them a different kind of complexity despite the ways queer families/family-making are often more intentional in building communities of support. The perception/support of queer love and queer family-making continues to be questioned by those who don’t understand. The dissolution of the nuclear family structure sparks conversation of biology instead of the emotional ties and investment in those we ✨ choose✨ to love. Jenry’s bio-mom makes difficult choices in moments of heartbreak & survival to craft a story of Jenry’s past that allows her to assimilate into her parent’s lives. The beauty and pain present in The Other Mother is centered around both the importance of acknowledging the intricate and equally important roles of everyone in queer family structures, and also that our choices & histories & loves always follow us. Always find us.

Harper prose is so affecting, it feels like memory. Like I dreamt about this book. It’s straightforward in the way that it moves the story without dragging, but also every character has clear driving emotions and depth that make each turn of the plot twist your own heart.
Profile Image for Leah M.
1,269 reviews36 followers
May 2, 2022
Thank you to Libro.fm for providing me with an ALC of this book.

I didn't have any set expectations when I went into reading this book, which is a good thing, but it wound up just being an okay read for me. It tells the story of one young man, Jenry, on his quest to find out more about who he is, and the man who was his father.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the way that each part of the story was told from the perspective of a different character involved in Jenry's birth and life - his two mothers, his birth father, his paternal grandfather, his paternal grandmother, etc. I enjoyed some of the characters more than others, but the story was intriguing and that is why I kept reading. Also, the narrators did a great job with voicing the different characters.

This book brings up the lengths that people go to for the people they love, and how while actions may be rooted in good intentions, they don't always end up well. Each of the characters in the story have love in their heart, even if it doesn't necessarily show. And I have to admit, that this was one of the best portrayals of addiction recovery that I've ever seen. It touches on some heavy issues, such as homophobia, estrangement, death, and grief, but it's done in an extraordinarily sensitive way.

While this wasn't a favorite of mine, I can honestly say that it is a good book and kept me intrigued for the whole time, even if part of it was a bit slow-paced.
Profile Image for Lisa Eckstein.
532 reviews23 followers
August 8, 2023
Jenry is thrilled to arrive in Providence for his first year at Brown University, not so much because he's excited for college but because he might finally learn more about his father. All he really knows is that his parents met while students at Brown, that Jasper went on to become a famous dancer, and that he died when Jenry was two. His mother has been reluctant to share any further details about Jenry's early life in Providence, before they moved to Miami following Jasper's death. So Jenry is astonished to discover that Jasper's father is a retired professor who still has an office on campus. And then his world is blown apart when his new-found grandfather reveals the truth of Jenry's parentage: Jasper was merely a sperm donor helping out his sister, who is Jenry's other mother, a figure never before mentioned.

From the revelation of this initial long-held family secret, the novel unfolds in sections that each focus on a different family member and uncover a new layer of secrets and misunderstandings. This accumulation makes the book increasingly more compelling as the story grows more complicated, so it took me some time to be pulled in, but then I was eager to see the full picture. The premise is great and original, and the different pieces of the story are woven together cleverly. Certain plot events hinge on extreme character reactions that I didn't always find believable, but overall the characters are well drawn.
Profile Image for Martha.
844 reviews16 followers
May 27, 2022
What does it mean to be family?

This slow unspooling of years of love, misunderstanding, and hurt among two families joined by the relationship of two women and the child they raise together for two years, explores the deeper corners of how we are bound to other people, whether by blood or nurture. With these two mixed race families, expectations are high. There are two talented musicians, an Ivy League professor emeritus, and a renowned dancer. Juliet, a talented pianist, meets Marisa, a Cuban American from a conservative family, at Brown University. Friendship blossoms into love.Marisa longs for a child and gives birth to Jenry. Years later, after spending most of his life with his single mother and her parents in Miami, Jenry, also a talented pianist, is a freshman at Brown and learns some unexpected things about the family he never knew. Shifting points of view and covering a period of about 25 years, the book delves into secrets kept, lies that beget lies, and the power of forgiveness.
Profile Image for Ashley Robinson.
142 reviews2 followers
April 27, 2023
3.5 rounded up, there is so much to appreciate here - navigating the fallout of difficult choices, the boundaries between yourself and family members, given vs chosen family dynamics - but the ending really missed for me & wished there had been a tighter edit.

Fav quotes:

“Let him surprise me,” she thinks as she follows her family into the living room, “ let all of them surprise me.”

“I will never understand what it was like to be you, Papi, and what it was like to have a daughter show up with a baby and a broken heart and asking for help. I will never understand what it’s like to believe that a gay relationship is not as important as a straight one, or to worry that God won’t accept a part of yourself or of your child just because you choose another path.”

“I have to forgive you.” She reached for his hand. “I forgive you for doing what you thought was right to help us, even though it was wrong, I forgive you. Who better than I understand doing the wrong thing for the right reason.”
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