Far From the Tree

December 22, 2017

Has your life been touched by adoption?

Some readers notice that this story feels similar to the NBC T.V. series This is Us …. and it is similar in its multi layered sibling sagas (from a teenage perspective) and especially a similar adoption theme. If you watch This is Us, you might remember in Season 1 how Randall describes his feelings growing up as an adopted child in a white family. These are the types of feelings (as well as others) expressed by Joaquin, Grace, and Maya as this story unfolds.

Far From the Tree
by Robin Benway

Far From the Tree

Genre/categories: YA Fiction, Social & Family Issues, Adoption, Siblings


Far From the Tree is a contemporary YA fiction novel in which three biological siblings (placed for adoption or foster care as babies in separate families) find their way to each other as teenagers and discover a deeper meaning of family. The story is complicated because Grace, one of the three siblings, has just placed her own baby up for adoption. In addition, Joaquin, another of the siblings has experienced trauma growing up in the foster care system. The author tenderly explores each of their stories including the mistrust, feelings of aloneness, and individual hurts and disappointments. Far From the Tree won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Amazon Rating (December): Early Reviews: 4.6 Stars

My Thoughts: 

If adoption is part of your history or adoption touches your family, this gripping and emotional story will captivate and wreck you in the best way! Tissues may be required! My personal connections to adoption with close friends and family cause me to connect with this story in a special way. Most notably, my husband is adopted and has experienced deep feelings of “aloneness” all his life. In addition, later in our adult lives, both my husband and I have established relationships with relatives (my husband’s sister and my cousin) whom we’ve been separated from all our lives as a result of adoption. In each case, the reunion was special and we’ve established close adult relationships with each other. #itsnevertoolatetoexpandourfamily  #drawawidercircle

My background with establishing our own relationships with family members who had been separated through the adoption process greatly impacted me as I read this story and I was able to recognize and identify with certain feelings and fears from each of the three siblings.

Far From the Tree is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. It is an engaging and heartwarming read for the YA audience and for all adult readers as the author explores with insight the powerful emotions of adoption from all sides. Because this is a YA genre, there are some F bombs and some teenagery angst. Also, I felt like the author included too many themes and at times it felt all over the place. I wished the author had remained more focused on the exploration of adoption, foster care, and family themes. Overall, though, readers will appreciate the excellent character development and relevant themes of adoption, fostering with the intention of adopting, reconciliation, healing, sibling bonds, family relationships, learning to trust, and family loyalty. Trust me! Put this on your “must read” shelf!

bike with training wheels

Shared with Joaquin as he learns to trust his foster parents:
“I know you don’t believe it now, I know you might not ever believe it, but Mark and Linda are like those training wheels, too. What you described? That’s what parents do. They catch you before you fall. That’s what family is.”

My Rating: 4 Stars


Far From the Tree

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Meet the Author, Robin Benway

Robin Benway

Robin Benway is a National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, 2009’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014’s ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her most recent title, Emmy & Oliver, was published in 2015 by Harper Teen, and was named one of the best books of summer by the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle, and Publishers Weekly. Her newest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was published by Harper Teen on October 3, 2017.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing.

Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how great it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I love the world of words, where literature and life connect.”
~Denise J Hughes


Do you need a children’s book? Check out Bibbidi Bobbidi Bookworm: Ten Great Children’s Books to Give This Holiday Season.

What was your favorite read of 2017? Check out Novels & Nonfiction: My Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2017.

Here is another great review post featuring a wide selection of fiction and nonfiction:  Kendra Nicole: My World in Reviews: An End-of-Year Wrap-up and My Favorite Books of 2017.

Looking Ahead!

I have so many books I’m looking forward to reading in 2018. See this post. However, I think I’ll read Woman in Cabin 10 next week for my IRL book club January meeting. This isn’t my usual or preferred genre….so we’ll see how it goes!

Woman in Cabin 10

More Information Here.

Sharing is Caring!

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear about your favorite reads of 2017 (mine are here).
What’s at the top of your TBR list for 2018? (my list of priority reads for 2018 is here) ….I’m adding Last Christmas in Paris to my TBR because of recent buzz!
Tell me if you have an adoption story in your family.

For those celebrating Christmas,
Merry Christmas from Reading Ladies!

Merry Christmas


The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite….

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Glass Castle

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography


This is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York city choosing to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness. Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that is remembered years later, one in which I learned something new, and/or one that allowed me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has appeared for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allowed me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allowed me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminded me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more alarmed by the family situation or notice her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for the parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her after she initially refused but Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat, and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend. ”

The Class Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances. My rating 4.5 stars.


Glass Castle
Buy Here

The movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a film and a movie

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children in spite of their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

Movie Trailer

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.


Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

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Please Share:

I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote and/or share my blog.


Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!

Linked Up:

This post is linked up with Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit here.