Summary: They say bad things come in threes and Avery is about to find out just how true that statement is. Having her boyfriend break up with her, being turned down for early acceptance at Duke University and the sudden death of her former best friend, Nora, leaves Avery feeling bereft and adrift. Struggling to figure out how to salvage a future Duke acceptance and mourning her friend, Avery uses the fact that she and Nora were both adopted as the basis of her senior class project, searching for her own birth mother and hoping to impress the university with the results. Along the way she befriends Brody, and as their friendship develops into love he provides Avery with some insight into herself and her choices.
Number of Pages: 189
Age Range: 14-16
Review: In a story about a young woman so consumed by getting into the same university her parents did she is willing to use her search for her birth mother as a selling point for the admissions office, Avery becomes a person who doesn’t know who she is anymore.
Avery’s a complicated character as her insecurity over being adopted feeds her fear of losing her adoptive parents love. They’re her family, but somewhere inside of her she questions whether they will still care about her if she doesn’t live up to certain family standards. Except this belief is all in her head. Her adoptive parents are eager to support and love her no matter what, and meeting her birth mother reveals not everyone feels that way.
Brody is my favourite character in the Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook. His ability to capture multi-layered moments others miss in his photographs lends also to his talent in seeing the potential of others. He comes into Avery’s life when she needs him the most, providing an anchor and a distraction as she sorts out her identity and mourns her friend.
What frustrated me about Cook’s book is that I wanted to know more about Nora. Her story of trying to find her birth mother is told in a less than a chapter, a single heartbeat in the pulse of the story. But her tale sounds like it deserves its own book. A fake birth mother who exploits her for money? Rumours of a shady adoption industry in Costa Rica? A character so distraught by her findings that she commits suicide? That’s a story. I wish I could have read it, because I had so many questions.
I also wish Cook had included more from Nora’s guide for Avery. If Nora’s story inspires Avery to find her own birth mother through a sense of guilt and her guide, then I wanted to know what was so inspiring about it. And again, it would have revealed more about Nora’s story. Nora is painted like she is unstable, but at the same time it sounded like she had valid reasons for her eccentric behaviour.
Despite containing serious themes of suicide, questions of origins, and parental issues, it’s a remarkably light read.
“I’d almost forgotten our shorthand. SOC stood for Sister of Choice. In second grade Nora got the idea that since we were both adopted, maybe we were sisters. We practically had proof: We loved vanilla more than chocolate, couldn’t stand the smell of cauliflower cooking and could touch our tongues to the tips of our noses. We’d gotten really excited about the idea, until my mom sat us down and explained that it was unlikely we were twins separated at birth, not the least because Nora was part Costa Rican and I was clearly as white as they come, and having a secret twin was apparently the kind of thing the adoption agency would have mentioned in the official paperwork. When we got back to my room, I’d burst into tears. I had been so sure we were sisters. Nora patted my back and told me not to be sad, we were better than sisters, and after all, being born sisters was just an accident of birth. We were sisters of choice. SOC. Whenever we would leave each other we would call out ‘SOC,’ and we signed it at the bottom of all our notes to each other.” – Avery from Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook, page 27
“We walked outside and I stopped short. The sun had come out while we had been inside. The light bounced off the wet leaves lying in the street, and the puddles in the parking lot gave off a glare. Despite the sunshine it was cold. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the air felt razor sharp when I breathed it in. It was painfully beautiful.” – Avery from Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook, page 46
“‘That’s the hard thing with some people. They see us not just for who we are, but for who we could be. They hold us to a higher standard. They make us better because they believe we can be better, and that makes us believe it too.’
In that moment I began to believe.” – Conversation between Avery’s mother and Avery about Brody pushing her to be a better person from Year of Mistaken Discoveries by Eileen Cook, page 168