I was incredibly moved by Karma Brown’s debut novel Come Away With Me last year, a story of one woman dealing with grief and loss that just hit all of the right notes for me. It made me really eager to read more stories from her, so being able to grab an early review copy of The Choices We Make was really great! I sensed that I was in for another emotional roller coaster ride of a read. And you know what? I was absolutely right. To quote what I said in my initial reaction on Goodreads, “My heart hurts so, so much, and yet, it is so, so full too.”
The Choices We Make centers on two best friends – Hannah and Kate – who have known each other since the fifth grade, and have remained extremely close into their adulthood. Hannah has always wanted to be a mother, but she and her husband Ben have been trying for years and she hasn’t gotten pregnant no matter what the method. Just when they are considering exploring other options, Kate steps in to make the offer of a lifetime: she will be their surrogate. This is the start of an incredible, emotional journey that both families embark on together, and this story showcases the ups, downs and unexpected turns along the way.
This story, which sounds so straightforward – a best friend stepping up to be a pregnancy surrogate – does not play out that way. The central plot of this novel is Kate as Hannah’s surrogate, one best friend doing something to help the other achieve her heart’s desire. And Brown does an excellent job in her portrayal, as she doesn’t hold back with showing readers both the good and the bad of this experience (and I’ll talk a bit more about that later). But apart from the surrogate pregnancy, she also allows the readers to really become a part of these characters’ lives. She incorporates just the right amount of daily moments, day-to-day character encounters and even memories to make the reader feel like they really get to know these two best friends (and their families too, though not nearly in as much detail). The novel felt really well-rounded and incredibly immersive, and I admired that.
Because I was so familiar with these characters, it is no surprise whatsoever that I was wholly emotionally invested in The Choices We Make. I felt for Hannah, who really wanted to be a mom and who felt like the opportunity for that was out of her hands. I felt for Kate, who loved her best friend and hated seeing her unhappy and who wants to do everything possible to make the hurt go away. I even felt deeply for the secondary characters – their husbands, Kate’s children, their parental figures and their siblings. This surrogate pregnancy sounded so simple a situation in theory, but Brown reveals it to be so much more complicated in actuality. There are so many steps in the process, so many uncertainties and possibilities related to the situation and everyone involved, and it was really eye-opening to read about. I can tell you now that I laughed, and I cried; I got irritated, and I worried; I was angry and I was afraid. I basically turned into this big ball of emotion that eventually became a big blubbering mess by the very last page (which, if you know me, is a rare occasion when I’m reading a book).
Once again, Karma Brown has proven to have a deft hand at telling a compelling, heartfelt story. She really got me to see the different layers that surround this situation that the characters find themselves in, and even when I was getting angry at certain characters, I admired Brown’s bravery in being authentic to their perspective. It was one heck of a read, and I have to finish this review with the same quote I used in the first paragraph from my initial reaction, “My heart hurts so, so much, and yet, it is so, so full too.”
The Choices We Make by Karma Brown
Publisher: Mira | Publication Date: July 12, 2016 (Buy it today!)
Source: ARC received at ALA (Thanks!)