I love me some Emily Giffin, so when her new book came out I jumped to read it. I am so glad that I did because this is by far my favorite of hers.
The book is about two girls who navigate their lives after an adoption. Kirby who was adopted at 3 days old turns 18, and decides to contact her birth mother after feeling lost in her perfect family. Her parents could not get pregnant so decided adoption was right for them. Two months after Kirby came along they found out they were expecting. Though there was never any harsh feelings Kirby always felt like she didn't belong.
Then we have Marian. Marian had gotten pregnant at 18 with a man she loved, and lied about being pregnant to him. She took the test and in order to spare his future she said it was negative. She then let her mother know, and tried to have an abortion. She couldn't do it,and then settled on adoption. 18 years after Kirby shows up in her penthouse apartment in New York where she is a big time television producer.
Though the first time that they meet isn't ideal, they still enjoyed the time together. It caused Marian to hash out feelings she had tried to forget for the last 18 years. She had also neglected to tell her father about Kirby for fear of disappointing him. Kirby also keeps asking about her birth father. A question Marian has been dreading.
"Where We Belong has two heroines: Marian Caldwell, a successful television producer who gave up a child for adoption when she was eighteen, and Kirby Rose, the girl Marian gave away, now eighteen herself.
The book alternates between the two characters’ first person present tense POVs and begins with Marian angling for a proposal from her boyfriend of two years, Peter. But Peter, recently divorced, is commitment-shy. The two of them have a fight and Marian takes a cab to her Manhattan penthouse. It is there, at eleven o’clock at night, that Kirby arrives at Marian’s door.
Kirby’s appearance on Marian’s doorstep is unexpected. Marian hasn’t met Kirby since she gave her away, and though she left her contact information with the adoption agency, she has never told anyone but her mother about her pregnancy. That she kept it secret from Peter, from her own father, and from Kirby’s biological father makes it hard for her to cope with Kirby’s reappearance in her life.
Kirby is a disaffected teen, envious of the attention her sister (her parents’ biological child, born after they adopted Kirby) gets. She wonders who her biological parents were, and after overhearing her parents worrying about what kind of people may have conceived her, she takes a bus from St. Louis to New York without telling them, and looks Marian up.
Because Marian concealed her pregnancy, she’s not eager to discuss it, or the biological father’s identity, with Kirby. She’s compartmentalized the pain of her loss, and she tries to compartmentalize Kirby as well, by taking her shopping at Barney’s and to see the Met instead of being truthful with her.
Of course, Kirby senses this and it amplifies her feelings of alienation. For all Marian’s success and sophistication, and Kirby’s aimlessness and disinterest in attending college, in some ways Kirby has more on the ball than her biological mother.
So neither character is immediately sympathetic, but they both become more so as they grow over the course of the novel, which goes in all sorts of interesting directions from there. We see how Marian’s secret-keeping has affected her relationship with Peter, who is the CEO of the network where she works as well as her boyfriend, her interactions with both her mother and her father, as well as her friends, and how the emergence of the truth impacts all these relationships.
We also see Kirby mature through the process of learning where she came from, realizing finally how much her family means to her and that in the end, no one knows her better or loves her more than the parents who raised her and saw her through the journey from baby to young adult.
There is an interesting contrast between the teenage Kirby and the teenage Marian, shown through flashbacks. While Marian had a better sense of direction than Kirby as a teen, she was less willing to express her individuality and more eager to please other people, especially her parents – which did not serve her well when she got pregnant by a boy who wasn’t what her parents wanted for her.
Meanwhile, Kirby doesn’t know what she wants to do with her future, but she finds it easier to be who she is, even when she doubts if anyone else appreciates the person she is. Learning the identity of her biological parents ultimately helps Kirby gain confidence, but it doesn’t change the honesty and authenticity she has from the beginning.
Kirby and the younger Marian are also contrasted with the older, goal-oriented Marian, a woman who seemingly has everything but isn’t really happy, partly because she’s concealing a huge secret and partly because she has never acknowledged to herself how much she lost as a teen. Ultimately, this is a book about the importance of being truthful, both with others as well as with oneself. It’s also about being true to oneself, acknowledging one’s needs and desires even when they don’t fit the template of the life one has built.
Where We Belong is a deeply absorbing novel and even has some romantic moments, as well as others that made me reach for a box of tissues. The emotional center of the books is Marian and her journey, rather than Kirby’s. Much as I liked Kirby, her story felt more like a subplot to me. It was Marian who had lied to so many of her loved ones and had to unravel the tangle she had created.."