Courtney Sheinmel’s middle-grade novel, My So-Called Family, is definitely a 21st-century type of story, about a girl who has a donor instead of a dad. It’s a well-written book that takes a look at the meaning of family.
Thirteen-year old Leah Hoffman-Ross never really had a father; her mother chose a donor from a reproductive agency and had a baby on her own. Although her mom is open about it and Leah now has a wonderful stepfather and brother whom she love, she still feels uncomfortable with her origins. When they move to New York and Leah starts a new school, she feels like she has to keep the truth a secret from her new friends. Here, one of them asks about her hyphenated last name:
“Oh, yeah. Ross is my stepfather’s last name,” I said. “He and my mom got married six years ago.” I didn’t tell her Hoffman was my mother’s maiden name. She could just assume the Hoffman part came from my biological father. I could be like thousands of kids with a father and a stepfather. That was my plan anyway.
“My mom’s remarried, too,” Callie said. “I practically know my stepfather better than my real father. Does your dad live nearby at least?”
“Oh, no. He’s off in Europe somewhere,” I said, reciting the familiar line I usually told about my family. “I’m not exactly sure where.”
Then, Leah finds an online Sibling Registry hosted by the reproductive agency her mom used and discovers she has siblings who were also fathered by Donor 730. She feels compelled to meet these previously unknown brothers and sisters but isn’t sure what her mother will think.
It’s an interesting story. Although the premise may not be something most kids can relate to, Leah’s struggles will be familiar to all adolescents – feelings of embarrassment over aspects of her family, wanting to fit in and just be a “normal” kid, and straddling the line between childhood and growing up. It’s a well-written story with realistic, likeable characters and a thought-provoking plot.
194 pages, Simon & Schuster
For more information on this and other novels, visit the author’s website.