Sunday, July 29, 2012

We Belong Together (Book Review: Where We Belong, Emily Giffin)

I have more or less loved all of Emily Giffin's books, so much so that whenever she has a new release, I always look forward - obsess - about reading them right away. So of course, I was first in line for "Where We Belong," her newest novel. I purposely did not read anything about the novel, not even the plot description, as I wanted my mind it to be a fresh read, free of any bias. The novel is a great read: one of those instances where you invest yourself in the characters that you savoured every chapter, and like old friends, miss them instantly after you turn the last page. 

Marian Caldwell is a showrunner for a television show. She lives a grand life in NYC and is even dating the head of her network. ("You're the new Les Moonves and Julie Chen" her friends tell her) In the beginning of the novel, her biggest concern was how to step up their relationship to a higher level - Marriage - but she receives an unexpected visitor that same night: an 18 year old young woman. It's the daughter she gave up for adoption. Of course, this rocks her world. It's a simple enough story, right? 

Yes, but this is where Emily Giffin shines. She makes the voices who tell the story so vivid and real, and relatable that you feel like you are seeing every side of a cube. She tells it from two points of view - from Marian, and also from Kirby, the 18 year old daughter. But the narration is never forced, and this is not one of those psychological pieces where you are asked to dissect differing voices. The story moves forward as it shifts from each voice, pushing the story effortlessly. You understand every character thoughtfully. You understand why Marian's surprise, her regret, her anxiety. You relate with Kirby's uneasiness, her insecurity, her wonder. Try not to cry when you read how Marian describes what she felt on that day when she had to give Kirby up for adoption. Try to contain your excitement as Kirby finally "understands" herself after she finally meets her biological father, Conrad. Ms. Giffin has a fine way of interweaving stories, and inserting pleasant surprises in the plot. You think you know where you are going, and yes, you do end up there, but the journey you take is full. 

I have some minor quibbles - I sometimes think chapters end too abruptly, but then again this may stem from my wanting more of and from these characters. Also, some minor subplots seem half baked: the internal drama in Marian's television show, Kirby's young relationship with Phillip. But make no mistake, this is my read of the summer, and the high bar which I will use to measure everything else I read for the season. If you have been a fan of Ms Giffin's writing, this is a gift.