Review:: What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

Simply told but deeply affecting, in the bestselling tradition of Alice McDermott and Tom Perrotta, What Was Mine unravels the heartrending yet unsentimental tale of a woman who kidnaps a baby in a superstore—and gets away with it for twenty-one years.

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.

Author Helen Klein Ross, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, weaves a powerful story of upheaval and resilience told from the alternating perspectives of Lucy, Mia, Mia’s birth mother, and others intimately involved in the kidnapping. What Was Mine is a compelling tale of motherhood and loss, of grief and hope, and the life-shattering effects of a single, irrevocable moment. (via Goodreads)


I received an ARC of What Was Mine from Netgalley and the publisher, Gallery Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Looking at the cover, I think that it’s a lot creepier than the story really was. It had the ability to be very creepy, but it never really was, so the cover is a little visually disconnected to me.

I grew up reading The Janie Johnson series (The Face on the Milk Carton, Whatever Happened to Janie?, The Voice on the Radio, What Janie Found, and Janie Face to Face) by Caroline B. Cooney, and when I saw the synopsis of this novel, I thought this would be something similar. I was not wrong, though the style of the writing was very different.

What Was Mine was told through a lot of different characters viewpoints in the past tense. It honestly felt like it could have plausibly been Lucy’s memoir, with input from the other characters, except that many of the characters would never have written for it.

Basically anyone you are introduced to in this novel has a chapter from their perspective – the nanny who called out of work, Mia’s biological siblings, Ayi’s son, etc. There are a lot of different perspectives in this novel, and my only complaint about them was that anyone who wasn’t a native English speaker spoke in broken English. It’s probably realistic, but it was a little annoying to read. If they were writing in their native languages  (Chinese and Spanish, respectively), like they would have been in their own journals or diaries, they would have been translated better than what was published here.

That being said, the thought processes of each character felt really  different and realistic, no matter how long they had been in the story.

I think that the story could have been edited down a little when Lucy runs to China, and I wish that there had been a little more resolution for what happened between Lucy and Mia and Marilyn. The ending felt really unresolved to me.

However, it did bring up the ethical issues involved in this kidnapping, without completely demonizing the kidnapper, which is something I wasn’t sure could be done well, and for that I have to give Ross credit.

three stars

For these reasons, I’m rating this book three stars. It could be pushing three and a half stars, but it wasn’t quite a four star book for me. Other reviewers have said that readers who enjoyed Gone Girl would enjoy this, as well as those who enjoyed The Janie Johnson Series, and I would agree with that assessment. 

What Was Mine is due to be published by Gallery Books on January 5, 2016, so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, you should request it from your library or preorder it from your preferred bookstore!

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