Review Detail

Kids Fiction 2143
Family First
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
0.0
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.
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