Book Review: The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo

Title: The Sweetest Remedy
Author: Jane Igharo
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.

Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.

In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family–some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light. 

In Jane Igharo’s newest novel, family is family, even when least expected.

Hannah is a successful writer living in San Francisco near the single mother who raised her. She’s passionate about her career and her volunteer commitments at a local youth center. She’s also fed up with clueless, entitled men who try to hit on her by commenting on her “exotic” beauty or think it’s flattering to ask her about her ethnicity.

When Hannah attends an upscale cocktail party with her best friend, she’s pretty much over it all, until she meets a lovely man who seems to really see her, but their connection is cut short when he’s called away on something urgent. Soon after, Hannah’s mother shares painful news as well: She’s just been informed that Hannah’s father, a man Hannah met only once in her life, has died suddenly. What’s more, his final request was for Hannah to attend his funeral in Nigeria.

Hannah’s feeling are complicated and painful. She’s always known who her father was — a wealthy, powerful businessman from Nigeria. She’s googled his family and has seen photos of her siblings, none of whom know she exists. She has memories of his one visit to see her in San Francisco, and she knows that he’s always provided financially — and generously — for her… but why did he never actually want her? Why was she never good enough?

With a push from her mother, Hannah agrees to go to Nigeria, and the experience is astounding and life-changing. The Jolade family is not just well-off — they’re extremely wealthy, and their home is a gated estate in the exclusive Banana Island area of Lagos. Hannah learns upon arrival that the family has not been told anything about her, so when she shows up in their midst, their reactions are shock, anger, and resentment.

Still, their father has stipulated that the family must stay at the estate with Hannah until after his funeral or they’ll be cut out of his will, and so begins a two-week period where awkwardness and hostility slowly make way for new connections and emotional exploration.

As Hannah develops relationships with each of her siblings, she gains greater understanding of who her father was, why he made the decision he made, and how she fits into this world that’s so strange to her. Her journey is lovely and thoughtful, and also includes romance, as the man she’d met in San Francisco ends up being important to the Jolade family as well.

I loved reading about Hannah’s experiences, and admired her courage so much. She’s thrust into a world that she knew of as a child, but always viewed as a fairy tale, out of her reach. She describes herself at one point as the child looking through the candy story window, seeing a beautiful world but unable to participate. At the same time, she feels guilty too, not wanting to hurt the mother who devoted herself to her upbringing by embracing a world that she’s not a part of.

The book is mostly told through Hannah’s perspective, but also includes chapters from the points of view of other family members, and this approach really works. It allows us to see the other sides of the story — the emotional upheaval of not only losing your father, but also discovering the deep secret he’s kept, and being forced at the same time to accept a stranger into your midst and treat them as family.

We also see Hannah’s experiences in Nigeria, as she learns to connect with a piece of her own heritage, feeling alien yet finding ways to embrace what Nigeria means to her, and to see beyond the expensive lifestyle she initially encounters to understand the family’s history and deeper connections to the people of Lagos.

The love story is affecting and feels real, but it doesn’t take over or dominate the story. I see this book as much more about identity and family than about the romance, although all these elements come together in a really beautiful way.

The Sweetest Remedy is moving and lovely, with a storyline that’s well-written and evocative, and a main character you can’t help but wish the best for. I really loved this book. Don’t miss it!

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Book Review: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Far From the Tree is a beautiful, moving look at families — what makes a family, and what keeps a family together.

Grace, Maya, and Joaquin are three lonely teens, each going through their own brand of suffering.

For Grace, it’s the pain of an unexpected pregnancy, followed by giving up her beautiful baby for adoption. Grace has loving and supportive parents, but giving up her daughter makes her wonder for the first time what might have driven her own biological mother to give her up.

Maya is the older of her family’s two daughters — but she’s adopted, and her sister Lauren is biological. Her parents’ marriage is on the brink of disaster, and Maya and Lauren have become the keepers of their mother’s secret, hiding the evidence from their father of just how bad their mother’s drinking has gotten.

Joaquin is the oldest of the three, but his life has not been nearly as smooth as Maya’s and Grace’s. The two girls were adopted at birth by loving parents, but Joaquin was never adopted, instead spending his life in the foster system, always ready to pack his belongings into a trash bag and move on to a new placement at a moment’s notice. And even those he’s been with Mark and Linda for two years now — two kind and affectionate people who want to give Joaquin a permanent home — he fears hurting those around him, and doesn’t want to let anyone get close in case he hurts them or ruins their lives.

After Grace gives up her baby, she tells her parents that she’d like to find her bio mom, and they let her know that although they don’t know where to find her, Grace does in fact have two biological siblings living not too far away. Grace, Maya, and Joaquin find that they have a bond almost instantly, and despite their vastly different lives and circumstances, they quickly grow to trust and love one another, and to find in the others a sense of belonging that they never knew they needed.

Well, I could really just cut this review short at this point and simply say: I loved this book. The chapters alternate POV narrators between the three siblings, so we get a clear look at each one’s inner thoughts, fears, and hopes. There are scars left from their early lives and the lingering question mark — were they abandoned? Did their biological mother love them? Would she want anything to do with them if they ever managed to find her?

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that it’s satisfying without being predictable or too neat or too perfect. Over the course of the novel, I came to care so deeply about Grace, Maya, and Joaquin. Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I just wanted to scoop them all up, give them hugs, and tell them that they’re loved, and that they’ll be okay. They all have people in their lives who love and support them, but they still face hurdles around trust and belonging and feeling truly wanted and secure. Through their bonding as brother and sisters, they start to open up and feel connected, and it was so special to see how they find ways to support each other, accept each other, and offer unconditional love.

Far From the Tree is just a lovely read, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys well-defined characters and engrossing family situations. Maybe I take something from this book as an adult that’s different than what a teen would get from it, and I’m actually trying to push my teen-aged son to read it (despite the fact that he — gasp — does not believe in reading for fun).

In any event, I’m very happy to have read Far From the Tree. Once I started, I just really couldn’t stop. Great writing, great story — check it out!

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The details:

Title: Far From the Tree
Author: Robin Benway
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication date: October 3, 2017
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Young adult
Source: Library

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