Holy timely read, blogger friends!
I have no idea how this book ended up on my TBR list or where it came from; usually I have some sort of idea, whether I found it through someone else’s blog, a book list, a reading group suggestion, etc., but I have zero clue where No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook, 2018) came from. But that’s okay. It’s an emotionally complex book that gets right to the heart of so many of the struggles we’re seeing play out before our eyes right now.
Jen is a newly adoptive mother and she’s struggling. Her (adopted) seven year-old daughter, who has only recently come home from Liberia, is, unsurprisingly, having trouble adjusting to life in a new country with a white family, and Jen, who has wanted nothing more than to be a mother her entire life, is shocked to find that the bonding process isn’t instantaneous. Camille’s picture-perfect life is unraveling at the seams: her oldest daughter barely speaks to her, something’s up with her husband, and the uproar over a primarily Black school sending its students to her children’s mostly white school isn’t painting her in the greatest of lights thanks to her own bad behavior. Anaya has just gotten a job as the new second grade teacher at said white school, but her teenage brother’s transfer to the high school and the stress of being Black in a sea of white faces who don’t necessarily understand her and who don’t want to try is testing her faith and strength.
Tensions are sky-high throughout the year as the town grapples with issues that shouldn’t even be issues and old attitudes are brought to light and found- by most people, but not all- deeply unflattering. The novel comes to a head at the annual 5K, where everyone will be forced to come together in a tragedy that could have easily been avoided.
WHEW. This book is an emotional powerhouse. Katie Ganshert perfectly nails so many of the complex emotions that go into making flawed characters. Camille’s racism isn’t necessarily outwardly malicious, but by refusing to listen and avoiding deep self-examination, she becomes a perfect Karen, concerned only with what affects her and her family. Anaya is determined but wounded and exhausted, states that become more and more clear as to why- not just for outward reasons- as her story unfolds. And Jen. Ohhhhhh, I understood Jen so well, and Ms. Ganshert has illustrated in her something that isn’t talked about enough.
Jen pictured motherhood as lots of snuggles and cuddles and an instant bond with her daughter, despite understanding that it would be work raising a child who had spent her earliest years surrounded by loss and trauma. Her reality was struggling to bond with a child who didn’t quite feel like hers, even though she wanted her to, so badly. I get that. Though my daughter is mine biologically, it took much, much longer for me to feel that deep soul-bond with her, much longer than I was expecting, and it made parenting her difficult in the early days of her life (and we weren’t even dealing with trauma and loss and all the many things adoptive parents know to expect! Although my massive sleep deprivation, to the point where I was hallucinating, didn’t help…). The parenting manuals don’t discuss this enough; they talk of bonding as immediate or as happening soon after birth; they don’t discuss what happens or what parents are supposed to do when it takes longer than that, which leaves parents like Jen and me (during the time that was happening to me), feeling lost and scared and resentful. I applaud Katie Ganshert for bringing this delicate issue to light and giving parents like me a chance to see ourselves and see that we’re not terrible people, that this is just part of what parenting can look like.
Camille’s growth throughout the novel is commendable; her growth stems from the tragedies and challenges her family faces throughout the year (and other near-misses), and her eventual learning to look outward and apply what she learns inward. Will readers see themselves in her? I hope so, because there are far too many people out there who need to.
Anaya is strength and conviction and determination; her family- her mother in particular- is so well-crafted. There’s a speech her mother gives her near the end of the book on forgiveness that had me rereading the paragraph several times; do not miss this. It’s perfection.
Content warnings exist for racism, both blatant and the kind that’s more inconspicuous but just as harmful, death of a parent, and allusions to what likely constitutes rape (where a drunken character is taken advantage of by one that didn’t seem drunk or as drunk). All the characters in the book seem to be practicing Christians (to some degree), and while their faith is discussed and put into practice (and some have labelled this novel as Christian fiction), it never comes across as the author having an agenda, only as something by which those characters live and base their morals on. Ms. Ganshert isn’t proselytizing or advertising here, only describing her characters’ commitment to or failure to live up to certain ideals, something which I appreciated.
This is a wonderful, timely book, one that I’m glad I read, and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author who not only has her finger on the pulse of America, but who is able to translate her observations into a deeply-felt novel that will tug at your heart and hopefully have you examining your attitudes towards a number of important issues.