Title: My So-Called Family
Author: Courtney Sheinmel
Simon and Schuster, Otober 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Recommended for: Preteens, ages 10-13
Everyone wants a normal family, but it depends on what their definition of "normal" really is... For thirteen-year-old Leah Hoffman Ross, having a loving mother, stepfather, and stepbrother isn't enough. She's always felt "different" due to the fact that she lacks a real father: instead, in order to have Leah, her mom got donor #730 from the Lyons' Reproductive Services, and Leah's been trying to hide her embarrassing secret for her whole life. So when Leah's parents announce that they're moving from their home in Baltimore, Maryland to New York, Leah finds herself excited at the prospect of meeting new friends who don't know about her secret. But even after meeting 3 new friends who like her for who she is, Leah can't help but wonder if her donor fathered other kids, leading her to search for possible half-siblings through the Lyons' site. And when she meets her half-sister, a girl her own age, without her frustrated mother's permission, she begins to question the true meaning of family...
Debut author Courtney Sheinmel's unique new novel is modern, fresh, and fun. Leah experiences situations that tween girls can truly relate to, such as curfew, belonging, family problems, and is overall a truly realistic character. From page one, I was sucked into this extremely well-written novel, and when I finished, I felt like I personally knew all of the characters. Two of the best features, I think, are the point of view that the story is written through, and the dialogue. Leah has a real voice that actually sounds like something a thirteen year old girl would say. The dialogue is flowing and reflects each characters' personalities, and I loved how Ms. Sheinmel snaked a little subplot into the story (Chase, Avery's brother, and his college issues). My one complaint would be that I found My So-Called Family to be a bit lagging and slow in the middle. But as the plot neared the end, it picked up again and flowed to the very last page, where it ended in the perfect way. Brava, Ms. Sheinmel, for creating such a lively story for preteens!