What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

By Ekta R. Garg

January 6, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Bookmark it!

A single mother hides a terrible secret from everyone she meets: the daughter she has raised for 21 years isn’t, in fact, her own daughter at all. More than two decades earlier, in a split-second decision, the woman kidnapped the child. Since then she’s managed to hide the kidnapping from everyone—even her family—but when the facts come out, the woman isn’t the only one who must deal with the consequences of her actions. Author Helen Klein Ross takes every parent’s worst nightmare and turns it into a thoughtful discussion in the poignant novel What Was Mine.

Lucy Wakefield has what many young women want: an up-and-coming career in advertising, a loving husband, and a life in close proximity to New York City. What Lucy doesn’t have is a baby, and more than anything Lucy wants to be a mother. Conceiving by natural means doesn’t come easily to her and her husband, however, and the strain of Lucy’s overwhelming desire for a child causes their marriage to fail. Now Lucy doesn’t have a husband or a child.

The failure of her marriage she can deal with, but Lucy’s failure at motherhood follows her everywhere. It even follows her into the brand new Ikea store that has opened close to her New Jersey neighborhood. On that fateful day, Lucy sees a baby napping unattended in a cart. She spends a moment or two reflecting on her choices, picks up the baby, and leaves the store.

News quickly spreads of the missing child, and Lucy watches on TV as the baby’s parents plead for the child’s return. Something inside of Lucy prevents her from confessing her crime. In fact, she doesn’t think of it as a crime at first. The baby’s mother had left her alone; what if she child had fallen from the cart? Worse, what if someone with sinister intentions had taken the child? At least Lucy knows she’ll lavish the baby with every ounce of love and attention she possesses.

And she does. For more than twenty years Lucy works ridiculous hours so she can provide her child, Mia, with every luxury possible. When Mia gets old enough for the discussion, Lucy concocts a story about a pregnant teenager from Kansas who wanted to give up a baby. Mia settles into her role as adopted daughter with ease.

Until a series of events leads Mia to discover that she wasn’t the birth daughter of a pregnant teen from Kansas. Mia finds out the truth just months before her graduation from college, and the discovery leaves her reeling. How can her mother be a kidnapper? Did Lucy ever stop to consider her birth mother’s feelings? What is Mia supposed to do now? Who is she? As she grapples with these questions, Lucy runs away from home to handle the emotional fallout of her daughter’s accusations.

Author Helen Klein Ross leads readers through a scenario that worries every parent: the kidnapping of a child. Fortunately Ross doesn’t allow for any distasteful treatment of Mia, instead focusing on the emotional magnanimity of Lucy’s decision. It doesn’t matter that Lucy loved Mia; her actions still shatter several lives.

Ross chooses to tell the story from several points of view, namely Lucy, Mia, and Mia’s birth mother. Supporting characters also show up occasionally to share their opinions, and interestingly Ross makes the decision to have the characters tell the story after the fact. This results in a tell-all book, but Ross doesn’t allow the characters to sully her main goal. Instead the novel becomes a thoughtful discussion about the far-reaching effects of one person’s impulsive choice. Parents always worry about the safety of their children, a justified feeling given the salacious details that come out of many kidnapping situations. In an indirect way Ross asks whether parents should feel any better if a kidnapper treats stolen children well.

The characters offer a resounding response to the question, as will many parents, but given that in this case the kidnapper gets to share her thoughts parents may find the book a fascinating read. I recommend readers Bookmark What Was Mine.

(I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)