The How & The Why

Today Melly had us writing letters to our babies…  

Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

 But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

 Alternating between Cass’s search for answers and letters from the pregnant teen who gave her up for adoption, this voice-driven narrative is the perfect read for fans of Nina LaCour and Jandy Nelson. 

Pre-order it here from Rediscovered Books for a special signed copy and gift pack!

Pre-order it from HarperCollins / Amazon Barnes & Noble / BooksAMillion / iBooks (through the iTunes store) / your nearest independent bookstore through Indiebound

Nice Things People Are Saying About The Book:

"Cynthia Hand is the master of pulling at your heartstrings. The How & the Why tells both sides of an adoption story with love, compassion, and care." 
—Brigid Kemmerer, New York Times bestselling author of Letters to the Lost

Being adopted as a baby has given Cass a good life with loving parents and the best friend ever. But now that she's 18, she feels the urge to search for the woman who gave her life. Little by little-while still mindful of her parents' feelings-Cass chips away at the blank wall dividing her from information she desperately needs in order to complete her sense of self. The narrative is told via two alternating voices that are rich and distinct: Cass', as she moves through her senior year, and her 16-year-old birth mother's, relayed in a series of letters written to the baby while she was pregnant. Their individual issues, dreams, needs, and visions are beautifully rendered and superbly shaped. Inspired by her own experience of being an adopted child, Hand has crafted an absorbing novel that focuses on family, friendship, teen pregnancy, adoption, personal choices, and serious health issues. Cass believably embodies the role of the unassuming female protagonist whose life, through no fault of her own, is roundly challenged, and she finds ways to rise above the conflicts. Give this exquisite novel to readers seeking an emotionally intricate story.
--BOOKLIST, starred review!

Growing up in Idaho with loving parents, Cassandra McMurtrey has always known she was adopted, but now, at 18, she’s curious about her birth mother. Because the adoption was closed, her parents have little information to give. But with the support of her best friend, Nyla, an adopted orphan from Liberia, Cassandra begins a search that leads to a stack of letters written by “S,” her birth mother. Hand (My Plain Jane) drew on the search for her own biological mother in this compelling novel, which offers two dramas in one: witty letters penned by “S” alternate with events from Cassandra’s senior year as she develops a crush on a new student, plays a lead role in a school play, and worries about her adoptive mother, who is in dire need of a heart transplant. Many characters emerge as heroes here, sacrificing their own desires for others: “S,” who is determined to find the perfect parents for her unborn daughter; Cassandra, who remains considerate of the feelings of birth mother and adoptive parents; and her adoptive parents, who put their own concerns aside to do what’s best for their child. This compassionate story rings true.

For high school senior Cassandra McMurtrey, turning 18 means being old enough to face the question of whether she should seek out her birth mother. Adopted as an infant in a closed domestic adoption, Cass has a good life: she's a talented musical theater performer with loving parents and a best friend, Nyla, who always has her back. She isn't missing anything except "the how and the why"-a knowledge of where she came from. But seeking out information about her birth mother's identity results in bureaucratic frustrations and multiple dead ends. Interspersed with Cass's story are letters written 18 years earlier by her birth mother, who signs her letters as S, as part of a state program in which women could leave letters for their babies. S describes herself as the "solidly average" 16-year-old daughter of a local politician, living at a residential school for pregnant teens and wittily narrating her feelings of ambiguity about the pregnancy and the events that led up to it. This book offers an emotionally nuanced look at adoption from the perspective of both the birth mother and the child, which is informed by the author's own experiences as an adoptee. The novel's great strength is the emotional depth of its characters and the complexity of their relationships to one another. Cass's friendship with Nyla, who was adopted from Liberia as a young child, offers a contrasting adoption experience that both girls struggle with: is it better to have answers about the past the way Nyla does, even if those answers are heartbreaking? VERDICT A heartfelt and hopeful story about coming of age as an adoptee that is highly recommended for all collections. 

An adopted teen and her birth mother share their stories. Hand (co-author: My Plain Jane, 2018, etc.) strays from reimagining classics to crafting an intricate contemporary narrative, interweaving 18-year-old Cassandra McMurtrey's present-day quest to find her birth mother with revealing letters "S" wrote her unborn daughter. This fast-paced roller-coaster tale of identity formation includes richly detailed character development and a refreshingly diverse cast of characters, many of whom actively question life choices and what makes you you. Hand is at pains to show that while adoptions are frequently fraught with emotion and deserving of acceptance for all parties involved, their terms can vary greatly. White Cass was adopted at 6 weeks of age by white, middle-class parents who knew her birth mother only on paper, while Cass' best friend, Nyla, who is black, was adopted from Liberia at age 3 by white, upper-class parents. Nyla, whose family are Latter-day Saints like many in town, recalls her mother's name, that her parents were killed in the civil war, and that she had a brother, but little else. Hand explores adoption's multiple dimensions with great insight and sensitivity. Inclusive and illustrative: an engaging lesson in timeless family values.

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