The second book we read was A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, by Dana Reinhardt.
When Auntie Lois asked us who our favorite secondary character was in the book, we listed many different people: Simone’s parents, her younger brother Jake, her best friend Cleo, and her new friend, Zach.
After giving us all a chance to speak, Auntie Lois said, “My favorite was Rivka.”
“Oh, me too, me too!” we all shouted. “She wasn’t a secondary character! We would have said her, too!” We all laughed and then talked about all of the things we loved about Rivka.
Warning: There are spoilers ahead. If you want to read a really good book, and you don't like to know what is coming when you're reading, stop here and go get it. It's an Auntie Lois pick, and that's about the best endorsement a book can get. You'll love it.
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life is a young adult novel about Simone, a teenager who was adopted when she was a baby. At the start of the book, she has no knowledge of her biological family’s history, and she has no interest in it; she’s been raised by wonderful parents and feels comfortable and confident with her place in the world.
At first, she is very resistent when her parents encourage her to meet her biological mother, Rivka, who calls and wants to connect with her. Slowly, she learns that Rivka grew up in a Hasidic Jewish family, became pregnant at a young age, and gave up her baby because there were no other real choices for her. She also learns that Rivka is fighting a losing battle with cancer.
As they grow to know each other, Simone is impressed by Rivka’s faith. Her adoptive parents are atheists, and Simone has never quite understood the draw of religion. Rivka shows her how her faith brings her strength in facing her illness.
I'd love to quote several scenes in this book, including a beautiful one where Simone's family celebrates Hanukah with Rivka. I want to be careful about copyright, though -- and I want to encourage people to read this lovely book for themselves, if you weren't yet convinced by my above spoiler warning. There is a very poignant moment where Simone discusses Rivka's illness with a Rabbi, and I think it's okay for me to share a bit of it here.
Simone is understandable upset and angry that her mother, who she's only recently been able to get to know and who is only thirty-three years old, is going to die. She expresses her feelings to Rabbi Klein, and though he isn't able to reassure her that he knows why this happens, he gives her some comfort with these words:
“For what it’s worth, Simone, I believe that you are giving Rivka the gift of an afterlife.”
“You mean by passing down her genes?”
“No. I mean by remembering her. I believe that is how we all live on after this life. By being remembered by those who knew and loved us. Every time you speak of Rivka after she’s gone, every time you tell a story about her, every time you think of her, imagine her, for that moment she is living on. It isn’t about genetics. If you had never come to know her, I wouldn’t be telling you this, even though her physical traits may be passed down to your children. We are made of much more than our genes. I would imagine, Simone, that you understand this better than most.”
If you've gotten this far and haven't yet picked up the book, go get it!
Dear Auntie Lois,
Thank you for all of the gifts you’ve given to me, particularly your love of the written word. I promise to keep reading and sharing with others the joy and comfort of books.
I miss you. I love you. I remember you.
Your loving niece,