Newest review: You Have a Match by Emma Lord

By Ekta R. Garg

January 13, 2021

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: January 12, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A teen makes a startling discovery after signing up to get her DNA sequenced. As she grapples with the results, a number of other secrets come to light. Through it all, the teen will need to decide what family and friendship really mean to her. Author Emma Lord brings to life her complicated characters with minor hiccups in the endearing novel You Have a Match.

In the little Seattle suburb of Shoreline, Abby Day is trying to deal with reality. Before her junior year of high school started, her grandfather, Poppy, died, causing Abby’s grades to slide. Her parents are freaking out and have scheduled Abby for every tutoring and prep session available.

Abby feels like she doesn’t have time to breathe. She also doesn’t have time for her photography anymore, a passion she shared with Poppy. Abby wishes she could explain to her mom and dad that if she could just take pictures, she’d actually do better in school. She can’t tell them that, though; they’ve rearranged their busy legal careers so someone is always at home with her and her brothers. Poppy used to take care of them. Now her parents are around all the time, and it’s driving Abby insane.

Her best friends, Leo and Connie, make life a little more bearable. Of course, things have been awkward with Leo after the BEI, otherwise known as the Big Embarrassing Incident, where Abby misread some signals. Now she can’t be her normal, goofy skateboarding self around Leo.

When a class at school sparks a conversation about family trees, then, it seems like the good old days when Abby and Connie practically dare Leo to take a DNA sequencing test. Because he and his sister were adopted, he’s always been curious about his heritage. In a bid of solidarity, all three friends spit into vials from their kits and mail them off.

Leo doesn’t get the answers he was looking for, but Abby gets some she didn’t even know existed. Apparently, she has a sister—a full-blooded sister—who lives in the area and is only a year-and-a-half older than her. Worse, when Abby looks up her new sister, Savannah “Savvy” Tully, online, she discovers that her new sibling is an Instagram influencer for the personal health industry. She’s put-together, well-heeled, and has a mad number of followers. She’s the exact opposite of Abby.

The girls meet, wary of one another and full of questions. Why would Abby’s parents give Savvy up? How do their parents know one another? Why didn’t they tell the girls about Savvy’s adoption?

The only way to get any answers, they decide, is to execute a plan that involves summer camp and hacking into parental email accounts. As Abby begins to spend more time with Savvy, she learns that the “what ifs” life throws at a person can sometimes become the “what nows.” Neither of those, she discovers, are bad things.

Author Emma Lord builds characters who are real and refreshing. Abby shares her uncertainty about Leo after the BEI proving how teens, just like adults, care so deeply about their friendships that they’re not willing to risk them for something else, even if that results in a broken heart. Lord does a great job, too, juxtaposing Abby’s lack of confidence with Savvy’s cool and collected manner. Even when the girls get into scrapes together, Savvy manages to pull herself together within moments.

If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in leaving the secondary characters less developed. Abby talks often about her three brothers, but readers don’t really spend any time with them. It’s a testament to Lord’s careful crafting that readers will still care about Abby’s brothers, even when they’re almost always off the page. A love interest for Savvy surprises her at camp, but, again, what’s known about the relationship is what Savvy shares. The full impact of the unfolding events doesn’t land nearly as much as they might have if readers had more information. Even the other best friend, Connie, gets relegated to the background once Abby arrives at camp.

Despite all this, the book is warm, funny, and offers a slow romantic burn that will make readers’ toes curl with delight. Those who like books about young love and finding one’s identity all in the same summer will enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark You Have a Match.

Newest review: The Last Piece by Imogen Clark

By Ekta R. Garg

August 19, 2020

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: July 28, 2020

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

After receiving some news, a woman takes an impulsive trip to Greece. When she comes home, her family will have to deal with the outcome of the journey and where it leads them. Author Imogen Clark tries hard to build the emotions but lets down character development in her latest novel, The Last Piece.

On an ordinary day, Cecily Nightingale gets a letter and plans a trip to Greece without consulting her daughters. She’s waited for this letter for 50 years. Now that it’s arrived, she’s not going to let anything stop her from making the journey from her home in Northern England to the Mediterranean.

Her husband, Norman, supports Cecily’s travel, but daughters Felicity, Julia, and Lily are shocked. Their mother has never mentioned going to Greece or knowing anyone there. Why the rush to go, they wonder. What could be there?

Cecily hopes the answer is “everything.” Fifty years earlier, as a teen mother, Cecily was forced to give up her newborn for adoption. Every day since then, she’s wondered what happened to her firstborn child. Now a letter has come, inviting her to a yoga retreat to meet her, and Cecily isn’t going to waste another minute.

The meeting doesn’t go quite as planned, though. Cecily meets Marnie Stone, the daughter she gave up, but Marnie is closed and stand-offish. Although she tries to reassure Marnie she would never have given her up if she had a choice, Marnie doesn’t seem convinced. After finding out that Marnie lives in London for most of the year, Cecily comes home exhausted but a little encouraged. Maybe living in the same country will give her the opportunity to see her oldest child again and introduce Marnie to her half-sisters.

Felicity, Julia, and Lily greet the news with varying reactions. Felicity, the oldest of the Nightingale girls—or so she thought, anyway—is indignant. How dare this woman try to barge in on their lives after all this time? Julia is skeptical. Why would Marnie insist that their mother come all the way to Greece? Lily, the family peacemaker, tries to encourage her sisters to keep an open mind.

Then Marnie reaches out to Cecily again; this time, she wants to visit Cecily and the rest of the Nightingale family at home. Cecily goes out of her way to make accommodations for her daughter, both physical and emotional, but Marnie still can’t seem to open up. Instead, her introduction to the family makes everyone question their place in it and with one another.

Author Imogen Clark brings to light a sad but true fact: in the 1970s, many pregnant teens in England were sent to Mother and Baby homes where they would live before they delivered. Weeks after giving birth, the girls would give up their babies for adoption and be expected to return to their lives with their families as if nothing had changed. With this idea as the backdrop of the book, the sections from Cecily’s point of view as a teen in the home are certainly the strongest and most compelling.

Less so are the other sections written from the other daughters’ points of view. Readers are given just enough information from each of them to start asking questions, but those questions are never resolved. The lack of completion of these subplots also plagues character development in the book. None of the daughters feel like three-dimensional people.

The biggest mystery of all is Marnie. Although she’s the one who initiated the interactions between herself and the Nightingales family, her behavior toward them is a mystery. Not enough information is ever given as to why she feels so much hostility toward Cecily, Norman, and her half-sisters. Even after Cecily’s impassioned recollection of what led to Marnie’s adoption in the first place, the woman seems unmoved. She doesn’t, in fact, act her age, and that makes it much harder to suspend disbelief that her reactions would be realistic.

Clark offers resources in her author’s note on where curious readers can find real-life accounts of women who gave up their children in the homes as well as the children who were adopted through them. Those might offer more engaging stories that hold together from start to finish. Readers wanting to read a women’s fiction book set in England that doesn’t revolve around London, this might be a good pick. Otherwise, I recommend readers Borrow The Last Piece.