The Girl and the Grove
By Eric Smith
I received this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review... I also pre-ordered myself a physical copy. This is a big deal for me since I read almost exclusively on the Kindle and I am going to have to fit it back when I go back to China with me in July.
I found the earlier anthology that Eric Smith edited to be really touching and personal so I have had my eye on this book basically since it was announced.
Leila is a seventeen-year-old black girl who has grown up in foster care and is just settling into life as the adopted daughter of an interracial couple. But there have always been voices in Laila's head and what will happen if she decides to follow them.
Leila is a character who seems to leap out of the page. Laila cares so much about other people and the world. Laila has a traumatic past that sometimes bleeds into her present, but she still lets herself care. Sometimes it feels as if for a character to be cool, they need to be cynical or apathetic. Leila genuinely caring might seem like a small thing, but it really made her stand out. I have said it before, but I just want Leila to get a scholarship and be a happy adult involved in botany and environmentalism.
The cast is beautifully multiracial. I liked that there isn't really a "reason" for Laila to be black. She just is and because she is she has to deal with the realities that come with being a black woman in America and which are sensitively here. I can't claim to know the accuracy because this isn't my identity but the writing feels respectful.
The strongest part of this book was the portrayal of adoption. Older adoption is something that doesn't get a whole lot of mileage in YA. Especially someone who has been in the foster system for many years. This story beautifully conveys the emotions and realities that come with adoption. I also thought that there is an element of what could have been to this story. I imagine that this is a question that many adopted people have asked themselves, "What would my life have been like if I had been able to stay with my birth family." While many times the answer would be heartbreaking in this case the question leads to something magical and wonderous.
The Girl in the Grove is also an exploration of the many ways that family can exist. There is the family that you are born into, the family that you are loved into, and then there is the family that you build for yourself. There is an emphasis on the building of community and the importance that those relationships play. Laila consistently confronts these different forms of family and what they mean or can mean to her.
The writing is light. The phrasing is spare, but there is a warmth to it that is very appealing. When I think of this book the word that comes to mind is "gentle". The dialogue is sharp and funny without being mean-spirited in the slightest. This book feels heartfelt to me.
If you are looking for a book dealing with adoption, community, or fantasy with a POC as the main character this is one to check out.
Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.
But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park.