Relative Strangers – Review

Why is there a gap in Jules’s baby album? A wry and poignant coming-of-age novel about finding the truth in lies, salvaging hope in heartbreak, and making peace with missing pieces.

Eighteen-year-old Jules has always wished for a close-knit family. She never knew her father, and her ex-addict mother has always seemed more interested in artistic endeavors than in bonding with her only daughter. Jules’s life and future look as flat and unchanging as her small Illinois town. Then a simple quest to find a baby picture for the senior yearbook leads to an earth-shattering discovery: for most of the first two years of her life, Jules lived in foster care. Reeling from feelings of betrayal and with only the flimsiest of clues, Jules sets out to learn the truth about her past. What she finds is a wonderful family who loved her as their own and hoped to adopt her — including a now-adult foster brother who is overjoyed to see his sister again. But as her feelings for him spiral into a devastating, catastrophic crush — and the divide between Jules and her mother widens — Jules finds herself on the brink of losing everything.

My Review

I received this book from NetGalley and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.

Relative Strangers is an amazing coming of age tale that tackles all the feelings that come with trying to figure out who you are, where you fit in, and unrequited love. Garner tackles important topics like alcoholism, addiction, loss of a parent, sexuality, and abandonment issues. It is a big challenge to stuff that many topics and issues into one book and Garner does it with finesse and grace; and most importantly not leaving any loose ends.

The whole story happens within the course of Jules’ senior year of high school. She discovers something about her past that her mother has kept a secret from her for her entire life. Through detective work, support from her friends, and Facebook, she finds the one person that might be can tell her everything that is missing from her history. Jules’ embarks on a quest to find herself, her past, and her way back to reconnecting emotionally with her mother.

Not only does Paula Garner write such a wonderful story but she creates characters that suck you into the intricate weavings of the story. You feel like you’re one of the girls. I felt like Jules, Gab, and Leila were some of my closest friends. I laughed with them, cried with them, and I cheered for them. One thing I often find difficult when you have so many characters is how to make them grow as the book goes on. Garner did this without making it feel forced. Each of the characters grew in their own way as they took on the rights of passage set in their paths.

Relative Strangers is a story that I think all people will be able to relate to in one way or another. I also think that it’s a great book for teens to read that teaches about appreciating and enjoying the relationships you have with the people around you. Garner kept the emotional twists coming, the pages turning, and the tears flowing well into the night. I highly recommend checking out this book if you’re into Contemporary Coming of Age stories.

Thank you to both NetGalley and Candlewick Press for giving me the opportunity to review this book. 

Where to Pre-Order

Book Depository


Barnes & Noble


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