March 2006

Finding her place on the family tree

By Dana Reinhardt
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In her first novel, Dana Reinhardt has created an exquisite story about teenage choices, goodness, grace and unexpected blessings. Over the course of her junior year in high school, narrator Simone and her friends deal with such issues as teen sexuality, drinking and the need to balance school, family life and activities that will look good on their college applications. (Joining the Atheist Student Association is not exactly what her high school counselor had in mind!) Simone is a bright, loving teen who has a strong relationship with her younger brother and her parents, Elsie and Vince. Though she has always been aware that she was adopted as an infant, she suddenly faces the difficult choice of whether to contact her birth mother. Providing her with a telephone number to a home in Cape Cod and leaving the choice of contact up to her, Simone’s parents encourage her and never feel threatened by this possible reconnection with her past. We learn that Simone’s birth mother, Rivka, was the daughter of a Hasidic Jewish rabbi. She gave birth to Simone at age 16, the same age Simone is now. While seeking the right of Rivka’s father’s congregation to meet in his suburban home, Rivka’s family meets Elsie, a young ACLU lawyer (and atheist) who will become Simone’s adoptive mother. Now living alone in Cape Cod, Rivka earns her living as a photographer. An illness prompts her to contact Simone’s parents, asking to meet Simone. Rivka, who no longer lives as a Hasidic Jew but still practices many traditions of her faith, establishes a fulfilling relationship with Simone that serves to bolster Simone’s love for her adoptive family while satisfying her long-suppressed curiosity about her family tree. Reinhardt demonstrates an unerring ability to capture the voice of an idealistic teen sorting through questions about family, religion and her place in the world. Turning the last page left me immensely proud of Simone, longing to congratulate Elsie and Vince for a job well done, and wishing I could thank Rivka for her compassion and sensitivity. Alice Pelland is an adoptive mother who lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

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