“Any Other Family” by Eleanor Brown (GP Putnam’s Sons)
What does it mean to be a family? That’s the central question explored in Eleanor Brown’s new novel, “Any Other Family.”
Featuring three sets of parents who between them have adopted four biological siblings from the same mother, the story is set during a two-week vacation in Aspen, Colorado. Tabitha, the chief architect of the new family and adoptive mother to twins Tate and Taylor, is determined to create a stable environment for the children. They all live relatively near one another and have Sunday family dinners as well as holiday celebrations together. This is their first two-week vacation as a family, though, and there’s tension from the start.
Elizabeth, the youngest of the moms with the youngest adopted daughter, Violet, exhibits classic signs of postpartum depression. Her journey during the novel involves realizing that it can happen to adoptive moms just as readily as moms who have given birth. After years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, she and her husband, John, accidentally met Tabitha (quite literally, when Elizabeth rear-ended Tabitha’s car) and are suddenly adoptive parents before giving themselves time to grieve for all the embryos they lost during IVF.
Ginger is an older, single mom to the oldest sibling, Phoebe. She’s wary of the forced family relationship, but in part due to what transpires during the two-week vacation, she comes to appreciate the support the family provides.
Tabitha is the classic mother hen, organizing all the activities, cooking or catering the food, and doing everything she can to cement the family together, even as the other moms sometimes resent her eagerness.
There are multiple references to Brianna, the birth mother of all the children, and the central action of the novel is set in motion by a phone call. Brianna is pregnant again and wants to give them the option of adopting her fifth biological child. But Brianna’s story is not central to the novel. Brown is interested in the dynamics of the nascent modern family she’s created and the bonds the mothers have formed that are starting to fray. She writes in the prologue: “Theirs is a strange way to become a family … though how it is any stranger than any other way people create families, based on things no more scientific than the accidents of genetics … or simply rather than liking the look of someone on a particular Tuesday night? At least they have a purpose, a reason to stick together, a common cause: the children they love as much as any parent, maybe even more.”
The Author’s Note at the end of the novel reveals that Brown herself is an adoptive mother and it’s clear from the story she’s written that she thinks deeply about the issue. There’s real empathy written into each character and the novel serves as a hearty endorsement for open adoption, when the biological and adoptive parents both play roles in a child’s life. The book won’t appeal to everyone, but readers who appreciate fiction that shows them how others choose to live, will enjoy the heart at the core of “Any Other Family.”