My So-Called Family
Ever since she was little, Leah's known where she came from: her mother and a donor from Lyons Reproductive Services. She enjoyed life as an only child and didn't mind having a single parent. When her mother got married, Leah gained a stepfather - and later, a little half-brother - who loved her unconditionally. Though very content with her home life, Leah's always had questions about her biological father, questions her mother can't answer. She doesn't know his name, only knows that he was Donor 730, and that her mother selected him based on certain attributes listed in his profile at the clinic.
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 So-Called Family” by Courtney Sheinmel
I enjoyed Courtney Sheinmel's My So-Called Family quite a bit, but it wasn't exactly what I expected. The description in the front jacket reads:
“Leah Hoffman-Ross just moved to New York and she wants her new friends to think she's a typical thirteen-year-old. But Leah has a secret: She doesn't have a father; she has a donor. Before Leah was born, her mother went to Lyon's Reproductive Services and picked Donor 730. Now Leah has a stepfather and a little brother, and her mom thinks that they should be all the family Leah needs.
“Despite her attempts to fit in and be normal, Leah can't help but feel like something is missing. When she finds a link to the Lyon's Sibling Registry, Leah has to see if she has any half siblings. And when she discovers that one of the other kids from Donor 730 is a girl her age, Leah will do anything to meet her- even if she has to hide it from everybody else.
“Debut author Courtney Sheinmel puts a contemporary spin on a timeless question in this heartfelt novel about what makes a family.”
Upon reading this, I made the assumption that this book was solely the story of Leah's journey to find out more about her half siblings and possibly search for the father she has never known. Instead, it focuses on her new friendships upon moving, her relationship with her brother Charlie and somewhat on her mother's writing career. We get to see her friend Avery's family struggle with her older brother's college decision and acceptance in addition to following Leah through her journey of finding her half siblings. When I first started writing this review, I felt that the book wandered a bit too much and didn't focus enough on what was promised in the description However, as I'm sitting here analyzing it a bit more I'm thinking about the last line “Courtney Sheinmel puts a contemporary spin on a timeless question in this heartfelt novel about what makes a family.” Throughout the course of the book, we are introduced to Leah's relationship with her mother, stepfather, and half-brother. We also follow her as she makes new friends in New York. And lastly, we find out whether or not she finds any half-siblings.
Sheinmel makes it very clear that it is sharing the same blood and genes do not necessary make you a family. Family can be your closest friends or your neighbors, as well as those you are related to. Sheinmel's book illustrates that well. Leah's family extends beyond those she is immediately related to and those she has grown up around. Upon writing this review, I like this book even more than when I finished it. I recommend it to readers around 10 or so and up (but I would suggest parents be available as their children read this, since some of the subject matter will likely spark questions from their young reader).
In addition I also recommend another of Sheinmel's books, Positively, a book about a girl named Emmy who is HIV positive and has to move in with her father and step-mother after her mother passes away from the same disease.
Overall I was very happy that I picked up this book and will likely read more books by this author.
Pretty Good MG Book
Reader reviewed by Hillary
Leah Hoffman Ross may seem like a normal kid, but she has a secret. She doesn't actually have a father. She has a donor. Before Leah's mother met Simon, she went to Lyon's Reproductive Services and picked donor 730. But now Leah has a stepfather and a younger brother and her mother thinks that that should be good enough. But Leah wants to know more. Then she finds the link to Lyon's Sibling Registry and meets Samantha, her half sister. Leah's determined to meet her, even if she has to hide it from her family.
I thought that this was a nice book. It wasn't outstanding or life changing, but it was entertaining and definitely not something that I regret reading. The writing was pretty good, especially for a first time author and the story was very different. I'd recommend it to anyone between the ages of 9 and 13 or to anyone who doesn't mind reading about younger characters. (Which really isn't my thing, but I think the younger me would've loved it.)
Great book about having a donor
Reader reviewed by Bookluver-Carol
Leah Hoffman-Ross just moved to New York and she wants her new friends to think she's a typical thirteen-year-old. But Leah has a secret: She doesn't have a father; she has a donor. Before Leah was born, her mother went to Lyon's Reproductive Services and picked Donor 730. Now Leah has a stepfather and a little brother, and her mom thinks that they should be all the family Leah needs.
Despite her attempts to fit in and be normal, Leah can't help but feel like something is missing. When she finds the link to the Lyon's Sibling Registry, Leah has to see if she has any half siblings. And when she discovers that one of the other kids from Donor 730 is a girl her age, Leah will do anything to meet her -- even if she has to hide it from everybody else.
Leah was a character that any tween girl can relate to. After moving, she feels as if she won't meet new friends or won't be accepted by anyone (which is how I felt after I moved here, a couple of years ago), and it made her a very realistic character. She wasn't annoying and grew as a character. She was three-dimensional.
Charlie (Leah's little bro) was just so cute. Whenever he appeared in a scene, he sort of lightened it up.
The plot was very original. There aren't a lot of books that deal with a girl finding her half-siblings from her donor. The book was heart-warming and it keeps you reading. It moved at a normal pace (not too fast but not to slow either) and it really allowed the story to flow.
One of the questions that the book raised is what makes a family? It's not just blood relatives, but it can also be people who make you feel loved and care about you.
Courtney Scheinmel wrote a wonderful debut and is just a great writer. She wrote some fully developed characters, and made them all seem real. She really made the characters grow and just made this novel so much more interesting.
I definitely recommend this book, especially to reluctant tween readers.