Award-Winning Book For Young Adults Probes What Makes A Family11:05

Far From The Tree, by Robin Benway. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Far From The Tree, by Robin Benway. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
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Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Robin Benway (@RobinBenway), whose book "Far From The Tree" just won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

The novel focuses on three biological half-siblings who are raised under very different circumstances, but find each other as teenagers.

Book Excerpt: 'Far From The Tree'

By Robin Benway



Grace wasn’t one of those girls who was always fantasizing about homecoming.

She knew that she’d go, though. She figured that she and her best friend, Janie, would get dressed together, get their hair done together. She knew that her mom would try to be cool about it and not get excited, but she’d make Grace’s dad charge the fancy, expensive camera—not the iPhone—and then she’d take pictures with Max, her boyfriend of just over a year.

He’d look great in his tux—rented, of course, because what would Max do with a tux hanging in his closet?—and she didn’t know if they’d slow dance or just talk to people or what. The thing was that she didn’t make any assumptions. She thought it would happen, and it’d be great.


Grace thought like that about everything in her life. Homecoming was something that she knew she’d do. She didn’t question it.

Which is why it was so surprising that she ended up spending homecoming night not in a fancy dress, not sipping out of Max’s flask and dancing with Janie and taking cheesy photos of each other, but in the maternity ward of St. Catherine’s Hospital, her feet in stirrups instead of heels, giving birth to her daughter.

It took Grace a while to figure out that she was pregnant. She used to watch those reality shows on cable TV and yell at the screen, “How did you not know you’re pregnant?!” as actors recreated the most unbelievable scenarios. Karma, Grace thought later, really bit her in the ass on that one. But her period had always been erratic, so that was no help. And she had morning sickness the same time as the flu was going around school, so that was strike number two. It wasn’t until her favorite jeans were tighter during Week Twelve (which she didn’t realize was Week Twelve at the time) that she started to suspect something was off. And it wasn’t until Week Thirteen (see earlier comment about Week Twelve) that she made her boyfriend, Max, drive them twenty minutes away to a store where they wouldn’t see anyone they knew so they could buy two pregnancy tests.

It turned out that pregnancy tests were expensive. So expensive, in fact, that Max had to check his bank balance on his phone while they stood in line, just to make sure that he had enough in his account.

By the time Grace realized what had happened, she was in the fifth day of her second trimester.

The baby was the size of a peach. Grace looked it up on Google.

The adoption lawyer sent over a huge folder of prospective families, each of them more eager-looking than the next. Grace’s mom and she looked at them together like they were shopping in a catalog.

No one was good enough for Peach. Not the prospective dad who resembled a hamster, or the mom whose haircut hadn’t been updated since 1992. Grace nixed one family because their toddler looked like a biter, and another because they hadn’t ever traveled east of Colorado. Never mind that she hadn’t even traveled past Colorado, but Peach deserved better. She deserved more. She deserved mountain climbers, international voyagers, people who searched the world for the best things, because that’s what Peach was. Grace wanted intrepid explorers who mined for gold—because they were about to strike it rich.

Catalina was originally from Spain and she was fluent in both Spanish and French. She worked for an online marketing firm but also ran a food blog and wanted to publish a cookbook someday. Daniel was a website designer who worked from home. He would be the stay-at-home parent during the first three months, which Grace thought was pretty badass. They had a Labrador retriever named Dolly, who looked both affectionate and stupid.

Grace chose them.

Peach was born at 9:03 p.m. on homecoming night, right when Max was being crowned homecoming king because, Grace thought bitterly, boys who get girls pregnant are heroes and girls who get pregnant are sluts. Leave it to Peach to steal Max’s thunder, though. The first thing Grace’s daughter ever did and it was genius. She was so proud. It was like Peach knew she was the heir to the throne and had arrived to claim her tiara.

Peach came out of her like fire, like she had been set aflame. There was Pitocin and white-hot pain that seared Grace’s spine and ribs and hips into rubble. Her mother held her hand and wiped her hair back from her sweaty forehead and didn’t mind that Grace kept calling her Mommy, like she had when she was four years old. Peach twisted and shoved her way through her, like she knew that Grace was just a vessel for her and that her real parents, Daniel and Catalina, were waiting outside, ready to take Peach home to her real life.

Peach had places to be, people to see, and she was done with Grace.

Sometimes, when it was late at night and Grace let herself drift to that dark place in her brain, she thought that she would have been okay if only she hadn’t held Peach, if she hadn’t felt her skin and smelled the top of her head and seen that she had Max’s nose and Grace’s dark hair. But the nurse had asked Grace if she wanted to, and she ignored her mother’s worried eyes, her lip caught between her teeth. She reached out and took Peach from the nurse and she didn’t know how else to explain except to say that Peach fit, she fit into Grace’s arms like she had fit beneath her rib cage, nestled there soft and safe, and even though Grace’s body felt like soot and ashes, her head felt as if it had been washed clean for the first time in ten months.

Peach was perfect. Grace was not.

And Peach deserved perfect.

Excerpted from the book FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway. Copyright © 2017 by Robin Benway. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

This segment aired on December 12, 2017.