Barbara Delinsky's new novel, FAMILY TREE, explores and challenges readers with the prickly questions of race, class, pedigree, family heritage and history.
The book opens with Dana and Hugh Clarke in the throes of becoming parents for the first time. Hugh, an attorney, met Dana when he was hiring a decorator for his house. They fell in love and married.
There have been four centuries of success for the wealthy, white, Clarke family in America, but Dana comes from a humbler background. Following her mother's death when she was only five, she was raised by her grandmother, who ran a knitting shop. Marrying into the Clarke family has given Dana a sense of security and love, and she is looking forward to motherhood. She has spent time decorating the baby's room, making clothes and hoping to have all of her planning just right. Hugh also is enthusiastic about the much-anticipated birth of his first child, as he is continuing on with his family's legacy.
Hugh's father is a noted historian and bestselling historical author whose written work has centered on the family genealogy, which can trace itself back to the Mayflower. His newest book is due out shortly and includes members of the Clarke family. All of that history is now challenged over the birth of his grandchild.
Elizabeth Ames Clarke is born healthy and happy, but her skin color is copper; she appears be part African American.
As friends and family come to see the child and hear about the color of her skin, their responses vary. As an attorney Hugh has defended minority clients, and his father is considered a liberal when it comes to race. But Lizzie's skin color upsets Hugh's parents, his brother and uncle. Dana's grandmother and friends, on the other hand, welcome the child with open arms. As "the issue of color raises its hackles," everyone wonders how this could have happened.
Hugh's loved ones don't believe that this little girl could be a member of the family. His sense of himself, family, heritage and legal experience --- including his relatives questioning Dana's fidelity --- requires him to order DNA samples of the child, himself and his wife. He wants to be able to answer completely any questions concerning the identity of Lizzie's parents. Meanwhile, Dana is upset over this request. Does Hugh trust her? Does he love the new baby?
When the DNA tests prove that Lizzie is their daughter, the mystery deepens. Dana has never known who her father was. Could all of this be related to her past? As she searches for the answers, she learns who she is --- but the questions about Lizzie remain.
More tests are ordered for Hugh and Dana to uncover the truth about Lizzie's bloodline. The unexpected results shock them both. As they redefine their own identities, the couple's love and trust for each other is renewed. But will their daughter ever be welcomed into the Clarke family legacy?
Barbara Delinsky always has given readers a sense of hope in her stories about family --- and this one is no exception. She expertly captures the exhaustion of a woman who has just given birth and those precious days after the delivery when parents begin to care for their baby regardless of circumstance. FAMILY TREE illustrates brilliantly those moments of hope and love that a family feels when a child is born.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on January 21, 2011