Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson

Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.

Nina Popkin wants to know about her past.  The death of her adoptive mother sends her on a search for answers about her birth mother and the circumstances of her adoption.  Who does she take after?  Who does she look like?  And the most important question of all—to whom does she belong?  In The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness, author Maddie Dawson explores what it means to be a family and how one woman ends up building her own.

            Nina first meets her sister, a woman that she went to school with, and knew only peripherally.  The meeting does not go as planned, though, and Lindy (birth name: Poppet), has mixed feelings about meeting Nina (birth name: Kate).  Nina just seems so unstable—living in her dead mother’s condo, divorced, and too needy.  Through many attempts, the two decide to work together to find their birth mother and learn the secrets of their past.
            The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness is ultimately a book about creating a family for yourself.  Nina comes to accept her own flaws and the quirks of other people and is able to move forward in her life.  There is a subplot about Nina’s new romance with a newly divorced dad and his two teenage children.  Nina, the love-them-and-let-them-go type, becomes the de-facto mother to the kids and learns that parenting is not as easy as it seems.

            When Nina finally meets her mother, she is surprised to learn that she is a moderately famous musician.  Far from receiving the welcome she expected, Nina is faced with a woman who regrets her life choices and just wants a quiet existence.  While Lindy and Nina pursue answers from their mother, Phoebe, she has to decide how much of her past she wants to reveal.

            The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness had many appealing aspects.  I liked the relationship between Nina and her new boyfriend, the divorced dad, as well as the interactions she had with his children.  His daughter, Indigo, had the most vibrant characterization of anyone else in the book.  She was spirited, and I enjoyed reading about her growth. I also enjoyed Nina’s voice in the beginning of the book.  Her character was full of sharp quips and great personality.

            As the book continued, I became disappointed by the overly dramatic push-pull of the relationships in the book.  Nina was either pulling or pushing her sister, the mother was pulling or pushing the daughters, the teenager was pushing or pulling Indigo.  It was enough to give me whiplash, but it really just made for a tedious middle of the book.  In addition, when the big reveal for the circumstances of the adoption, I realized that there was no big reveal at all.  Most of it had been told in a prologue at the beginning of the novel, and the part that had not been revealed, was underwhelming.

            The theme of making your own family shone through loud and clear, but I wish there had been a little less push-pull and a little more actual drama.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

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