By Ekta R. Garg
April 14, 2021
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: March 23, 2021
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
When two women discover they’re half-sisters, they also unearth new information about themselves. As they begin to build a relationship with one another, they see all of their old relationships in new ways. Author Jessica Strawser tugs at heartstrings with her newest novel A Million Reasons Why.
In Ohio, Caroline is juggling three young children and a job as an event planner. Her husband, Walt, decides to give all the adults an unusual Christmas gift: DNA tests. Caroline, along with everyone else, spits into the vial, mails it off, and doesn’t give it another thought…until the DNA company lets her know about a half-sister.
An only child—or so she thought—Caroline is shocked and dismayed at the results. She’s always wanted a sister, but discovering she has one because of the infidelity of one of her parents seems too high a price to pay. When she confronts them, one parent reveals that they always suspected that a child came from the affair. The other parent says they made their amends for the affair and want to leave it at that. Both agree they want nothing to do with the entire situation. But Caroline is curious, so she reaches out to her half-sibling, Sela, who lives in Brevard, North Carolina.
An almost-divorced mother of a toddler, Sela is thrilled and terrified by the news that Caroline wants to talk to her. Sela also grew up an only child and also the child of a single parent. She’s wondered through the years about the family she never had, and now that Caroline has shown interest in connecting she’s afraid she’ll mess everything up. Because Sela has more than a passing interest in reaching out to Caroline.
Sela is suffering from kidney disease, and the only way to avoid lifelong dialysis is by receiving a donated kidney. There’s always the possibility of getting a kidney from donors who have died, but Sela’s particular case shows that receiving a kidney from a living donor will increase the odds of a better quality of life. Everyone in Sela’s life, including her ex, has gotten tested, but no one is a match. Sela hopes she can work up the nerve to ask Caroline to get tested too.
Both women make discoveries about themselves and one another as they begin emailing and then talking on the phone, and neither of them is fully prepared for what they learn. The more Caroline learns of the ways she’s tied to Brevard and, indirectly, Sela, the more she wishes she could have a second chance at everything she missed out. The more Sela spends time talking to Caroline, the more she realizes that maybe having a sister is enough. Maybe she doesn’t need a kidney from her after all, even if that costs her everything else.
Author Jessica Strawser builds a believable, relatable relationship between Caroline and Sela. Unlike sappy family dramas, Strawser shows how both women struggle with the information they learn and the decisions they must make. Neither hesitate to advocate for themselves, yet both also fight to be heard when well-meaning loved ones try to override their decisions.
If the book can be faulted anywhere, it is the underdevelopment of the relationship between Caroline and her parents. Much of what readers glean about Caroline’s parents comes from Caroline herself or her conversations with others. Readers don’t get to watch the couple as much, a shame considering how the affair set off the chain of events that follows in this novel.
Strawser is to be commended, however, for the refreshing choice not to have Caroline fall into the trap of an old relationship. Instead of pursuing an affair herself, a tried-and-tested trope of the genre, Caroline pivots when something unexpected comes up. Strawser gives Caroline room to grieve the loss of her first love without allowing that to distract her from her main goal: getting to know Sela.
Sela, too, comes across as believable and relatable. Her soon-to-be ex-husband doesn’t quite hit the mark—readers may question time and again why he continues to hang around if the two have decided to part ways. The line about sharing health insurance only works for so long, and readers may have a hard time buying into his constant presence.
A great plot twist will keep readers flipping or swiping pages to find out how the story is resolved. Fans of solid women’s fiction will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark A Million Reasons Why.