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Originally published Monday, July 30, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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'Where We Belong': Emily Giffin's novel of the legacy of adoption

Emily Giffin's new novel about the legacy of adoption, "Where We Belong," imagines what happens when an 18-year-old girl tracks down her birth mother, a highly successful television producer. Giffin appears Aug. 10 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Emily Giffin

The author of "Where We Belong" will read at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free. Consult the bookstore website for signing information (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).
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'Where We Belong'

by Emily Giffin

St. Martin's Press, 344 pp., $27.99

BOOK REVIEW |

Until one fateful evening, Marian Caldwell thinks she has it made. A highly successful 36-year-old TV producer, teetering on the cusp of possible marriage with an even more successful network executive who speaks flawless French and favors Mont Blanc pens, Marian has nonetheless concealed a major secret for 18 years.

And one evening, that secret shows up at Marian's luxurious New York apartment. One look at the 18-year-old girl's distinctive eyes (bluish gray and banded by black), and Marian knows: This is her daughter.

Conceived by accident (of course), concealed from the rest of the world, this baby was adopted by loving parents and grew up as Kirby Rose in St. Louis. But Kirby has never quite fit in with her adoptive parents and her ultrasuccessful younger sister. She has long wondered about her birthparents — where does she in fact belong, and why didn't her birth mother keep her?

And so Kirby conceals from her family the fact she has tracked down her birth mother through the adoption agency, and she arrives on Marian's fancy New York City doorstep via Greyhound bus.

That's the premise of Emily Giffin's page-turner, the latest in a string of provocative, imaginative novels that began in 2004 with "Something Borrowed." Giffin, author of 2010's "Heart of the Matter," employs two narrators in "Where We Belong," the troubled adult Marian and the precocious teenager Kirby, to explore the ramifications of this long-ago decision, and what it means for the two women now.

We see in flashback the poignant high-school romance of Marian and her boyfriend, Conrad, intercut with the current romance of Kirby and her boyfriend. Gradually it dawns on the reader that not only is the daughter a lot wiser than the mother was at 18, but in many ways, she's wiser at 18 than Marian is at 36.

Complicating all this is a rich stew of parents — Marian's, and Kirby's adoptive ones, all with different issues and intriguing traits — and, complicating things most of all, an appearance by the crucial and long-missing Conrad.

In their own ways, all these characters are on a journey to discover "where we belong," and Giffin knits together their journeys with a masterly hand.

Melinda Bargreen is the former classical music critic for The Seattle Times. She's a freelance contributor to the Times and reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM (www.king.org).

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