What does it mean to be a family? Why do people adopt children? How does a person choose to be, or not be, a parent? When a novel asks questions such as these, there's often a singular instance or moment that provides an answer, or at the very least, a primary lens through which the possibilities are considered. The beauty of Eleanor Brown's third novel is that she positions these questions in conversation, asking the how, why and what through the stories of several parents. We see many different choices and the ramifications of each.
The family in Any Other Family is constructed on its own terms: As the novel opens, four siblings live with three sets of parents. Each child was born to the same young woman, who chose open adoptions, enabling the children to maintain relationships not only with her but also with each other. The whole family is committed to raising the children with regular gatherings for Sunday dinners and holidays. And now, for the first time, they're all taking a two-week family vacation, during which time they'll learn to interact in new ways, encounter unexpected challenges and be forced, again, to consider how they form a family and what, exactly, that might mean.
The novel unfolds through the alternating perspectives of the three adoptive mothers, revealing their strengths and challenges with equal care. Brown's tenderness toward these women, as well as the fathers, their children and the birth mother and father, draws readers toward empathy as well, as we feel our way into the complexities and nuances of the characters' seemingly impossible choices. Empathy functions differently when examples are iterative, and one of the greatest rewards of reading Brown's novel is the ability to engage with a multiplicity of perspectives.
There's joy to be found in the struggle, and Any Other Family offers a thoughtful space to experience this truth.