*I received a free copy of What Was Mine from Gallery Books via Netgalley. This has in no way influenced my voluntary review, which is honest and unbiased *What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross
Published by Gallery Books on 5 January 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Lucy Wakefield is a seemingly ordinary woman who does something extraordinary in a desperate moment: she takes a baby girl from a shopping cart and raises her as her own. It’s a secret she manages to keep for over two decades—from her daughter, the babysitter who helped raise her, family, coworkers, and friends.
When Lucy’s now-grown daughter Mia discovers the devastating truth of her origins, she is overwhelmed by confusion and anger and determines not to speak again to the mother who raised her. She reaches out to her birth mother for a tearful reunion, and Lucy is forced to flee to China to avoid prosecution. What follows is a ripple effect that alters the lives of many and challenges our understanding of the very meaning of motherhood.
What Was Mine was a strong story, touching on a very difficult subject, made even more difficult because it followed the baby who was kidnapped, her biological mother, and the woman who raised her (after kidnapping her).
There were a lot of things I really enjoyed in What Was Mine, and one of them was that the author actually managed to make me understand, and partly even feel sorry for, Lucy. After years of trying to get pregnant, Lucy’s husband decided their lives were just fine without a child, whereas Lucy continued to long for a baby with everything she had! This difference of opinion ended their marriage, and Lucy lived alone in their house in New Jersey for a while. One hot summer Friday, though, she went to IKEA to buy some things, and she happened upon a little baby girl who was all alone in a carriage, too cold because of the air-conditioning, and abandoned in one of the aisles. Without conscious thought, she started moving the carriage, holding the baby close to herself to keep her warm and happy. Before she knew it, she was outside – after a small episode with a security guard. At no point had she thought about snatching the baby, in her mind, it just happened that way. And that is really the crux of the the story in What Was Mine.
Most of the chapters are from either Lucy’s or Mia’s perspective. Mia is the name Lucy gave to the baby, and she managed to make everyone believe she had finally been able to adopt a baby in Kansas, she had two months maternity leave from work, even. There are chapters from a lot of other characters who were a part of What Was Mine as well, even some that were on the border of the story gave their point of view of Lucy and what she had done, after it became public that Mia was the little baby who had been kidnapped 21 years earlier. I have to say that my emotions were pretty much all over the place when it came to this story. As a mother, I really felt for Marilyn, who had taken her baby to IKEA to get some towels before her parents in law came to visit – only to answer her mobile phone (yes, she had one because she worked for AT&T) and went towards the windows to have a better reception. And when she finished her phone call, there was no more baby. The horror she felt was really well conveyed, between the panic and the way she tried to persuade herself that her baby might be in the next aisle over.
At first, I was also really, really upset with Lucy, and I didn’t think there would be anything at all that could happen that would make me enjoy her even a little bit. I did end up quite liking her in many aspects, though, which is really strange to me. I am almost a little angry at Ms. Klein Ross for making me feel something positive about Lucy at all – but at the same time, that also made the story all the stronger to me. And one thing that made that possible was that at no time did Lucy lose her guilt for what she knew she had done to another woman – another family. She lived with that guilt, while at the same time showering Mia with both love and gifts and the best possible schools. And the way she kept tabs on Mia’s birth mother was both kind of sweet and a lot creepy at the same time.
As I’m sure you can tell, What Was Mine is a very complicated story, there is no way I can condone what Lucy did, even if Mia had a good life with her. Marilyn, however, felt like her whole life unraveled, and even towards the end, she wasn’t at peace with the fact that her baby daughter had been stolen from her. I still became engrossed with the characters, though, and felt something for each of the three main characters.
Because What Was Mine is written in present tense and first person perspective, I felt like I got a very good handle on the main characters, and even those in the periphery of the story brought some insights that made understanding the actions Lucy took somewhat easier, even if I don’t think I could really get how she would go to such lengths to become a mother. But seeing her thought process made the story painful in a different way than it would have been if she was completely shallow about how many life her actions affected.
I can’t tell my story straight. I have to tell it in circles, like rings of a tree that signify the passage of time. Shall I start with how badly I wanted a child?
We assumed that having a baby would simply be a matter of trying. In fact, we’d gotten pregnant before without trying. I’d been “in trouble” with Warren during our senior year of college.
Sometimes a baby is better off with someone who is paid to take care.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: