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Discussion Module

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life
by
Dana Reinhardt

Publishing Information: Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2006
ISBN: 0385746989 / 0385909403 (Lib Bind) / 030728395X (Audio)
Pages
: 228 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

Summary:
Moving yet unsentimental, this novel explores a teenager's struggle with life, love and faith. Sixteen-year-old atheist Simone is under no illusions about her family - they are loving, kind, thoughtful and intelligent. She couldn't ask for anything more, even though she's adopted. Then from out of the blue Rivka, her birth mother, rings. Simone's life is thrown into disarray as she starts the slow process of getting to know her biological mother and understanding her Jewish heritage. But Rivka has her own pressing reasons for getting to know her daughter. With love comes heartbreak - and also a great affirmation of life.
Exploring issues of religion, adoption and coming-of-age, the author says that the story is partly autobiographical.

Book Talk:
Simone's starting her junior year in high school and she really loves her life.  Her parents, her little brother, her friends, and her new crush. Then her birth mother contacts her. Simone's always known she was adopted, but she never wanted to know anything about it. She's happy with her family just as it is, thank you. She learns who her birth mother was--a 16 year old girl named Rivka. Who is Rivka? Why has she contacted Simone? Why now? The answers lead Simone to deeper feelings of anguish and love than she has ever known, and to question everything she once took for granted about faith, life, the afterlife, and what it means to be a daughter.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Adoption
Birthmothers
Cancer, Ovarian
Faith and Religion
Friendship
Judaism, Hasidic
Massachusetts

Awards & Reviews:
Texas Tayshas High School Reading List, 2007-2008
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

Gr. 9-12. Olive skinned and dark eyed, Simone looks nothing like her fair-haired family. She is, nonetheless, the beloved daughter of her adoptive parents and enjoys a close and supportive relationship with her younger brother. It therefore comes as a terrible intrusion in Simone's comfortable life when, after 16 years, her birth mother asks to meet her. After some resistance, Simone makes contact with Rivka, a 33-year-old self-exiled Hasidic Jew who is dying of ovarian cancer. Despite a fairly transparent setup, once Simone and Rivka are brought together, their shared story is developed with skill, attention to detail, and poignancy. Both Simone and Rivka are strong, complicated characters who benefit greatly from each other: Simone is gifted with her heritage and history and thus a richer identity, and Rivka is able to leave the world having known her daughter. Some sexual content and strong language in Simone's friendships and school life may make this an inappropriate selection for younger teens, and with a poorly representative cover, the book may require hand selling. --Holly Koelling
Booklist, January 1, 2006, p85

Sixteen-year-old Simone has always known she's adopted, and has never wanted to know more, not even when her birth mother calls out of the blue. Simone's got plenty of other things going on already. There's collecting signatures for her mom (a lawyer for the ACLU) outside the Organic Oasis on the weekends; the Atheist Student Association and school paper; her crush on the paper's editor; her best friend who's starting to have sex with a jerk; and her younger brother who is suddenly a completely hot and popular freshman. Simone does get to know her birth mother, a 33-year-old estranged from her Hasidic family, and dying of cancer. Is there a little too much of every possible issue in this story? Possibly. Faith and agnosticism, drinking and puking, sex and virginity and love, Reinhardt brings it all to readers, but she does so in very realistic doses, with a sense of humor and a sense of hope. Simone's first-person voice is funny and unforgettable -- a little too wise, perhaps, but her epiphanies are on target and are what readers will be looking for in this fabulous debut.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2006

In a moving first novel, Reinhardt uses a sure but gentle hand to explore the relationship that develops between an adopted teen and her biological mother. Simone Turner-Bloom, 16, has always known she was adopted but has avoided asking questions about her past. She thinks of Rivka, the woman who gave her up at birth, in abstract terms: "Rivka became just a word to me, one with geometric shape, all angles and points. Somehow I've managed to keep myself from attaching it to a face." Thus it comes as a shock when Rivka calls to suggest that the two of them meet. Reluctantly agreeing, Simone is unprepared for the profound impact the reunion has on her life. During the next several weeks as she becomes acquainted with her biological mother, Simone learns of her Orthodox Jewish roots and is introduced to a new culture. As Rivka's tragic history gradually unfolds, Simone finds herself questioning things that have previously seemed irrelevant: the circumstances of her adoption, the possible existence of God and the meaning of family. At the same time, she enters her first serious relationship with a boy, who acts as both guide and confidante during Simone's "chapter" of self-discovery. Besides offering insight into the customs of Hasidic Jews, this intimate story celebrates family love and promotes tolerance of diverse beliefs. Readers will quickly become absorbed in Simone's quest to understand her heritage and herself. Ages 12-up.
Publishers Weekly, January 2, 2006, p63 (Starred Review)

Gr 7 Up. Simone, 16, has always known she was adopted but has never had any real desire to meet her birth mother despite the fact that she knows her parents keep in touch. Her family is perfect the way it is, thank you. Sure, she looks different and has different talents from her parents and younger brother, but that has never mattered. That all changes when Rivka calls and wants to meet her. What had begun as a normal school year changes as Simone must come to terms with who she is and how she fits into both families. When she then learns that Rivka is dying, it becomes a year that challenges her belief in God, a belief she did not know she had. It becomes a year that strains the bonds of friendships and family ties, both old and new. It becomes a year of her first boyfriend, and a year in an impossible life. Reinhardt's first novel is superbly crafted and has compelling and strong characters. It asks the big questions, about love, about faith, about what it means to be a daughter. It also has strong subplots that deal with friendship; with boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, both good and bad; with standing up for what one believes is right; and with struggling to keep up with academics and fit in at school when things seem to be falling apart on a personal level. The novel deals with big issues without being preachy or sappy. It is a great read. --Janet Hilbun, Texas Woman's University, Denton, TX
School Library Journal, March 2006, p228 (Starred Review)

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. How would you decriber Simone's relationship with her adoptive family?
  2. Simone is very socially active. What issues has she gotten involved with her family, through orgnaizations, and at school?
  3. What short of intereactions has she had with those who have disagreeing opinions about issues she holds dear? Provide some examples.
  4. Where you surprised that Simone's parents were so open about the fact that she was adopted? How about the fact that they continued to keep Rivka informed about her over the years?
  5. Would you have wanted to meet Rivka if you had been in Simone's shoes? Why do you think she is so against meeting her biological mother at first
  6. Discuss the reasons behind Rivka giving Simone up for aduption and how Simone ended up with her adoptive family. How does Rivka feel about her Hasidic Jewish background? Does this surprise you?
  7. How does this belief system compare with Simone's liberal background? How does she try to merge the two belief systems and lifestyles?
  8. How does Simone react to the news that Rivka is fighting ovarian cancer and that it is a losing battle?
  9. How did Simone meet Zack? How does he help her with her mother's illness and investigating her Hasidic heritage? Does Zack seem like a religious person? What things does Simone learn from him?
  10. Do you think Simone is better have having experienced this "brief chapter" in her life? Explain your answer.
  11. Some people believe that we are meant to experience certain events and that every person in our lives plays a role in helping us learn. What has Simone learned by her meeting Rivka and the resulting events and emotions? Is Simone a better person for having had this experience?

Related Websites:
Author's Website - http://danareinhardt.net/

Adoption Rhode Island - http://www.adoptionri.org

Questions About Adoption in Rhode Island - http://www.dcyf.state.ri.us/questions/adoption_questions.php

Religious Movements: Hasidism - http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/hasid.html

Rhode Island Family Court Voluntary Adoption Reunion Registry - http://www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/FamilyCourt/Pages/Voluntary Adoption Reunion Registry.aspx

The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults - http://www.ulmanfund.org

Walk With Sally - http://www.walkwithsally.org - An organization dedicated to providing support programs and services to children of parents with cancer

Read-a-Likes:
Confessions of a Closet Catholic
by Sarah Darer Littman, 2005 (A 2007 RITBA Nominee)
Fat Chance by Leslea Newman, 1994 Him She Loves? by M.E. Kerr, 1984
Finding Miracles by Julia Alvarez, 2004
Get Real by Betty Hicks, 2006
Goy Crazy by Melissa Schorr, 2006
Heaven
by Angela Johnson, 1998
If You Come Softly
by Jacqueline Woodson, 1998 (A 2001 RITBA Nominee)
Invisible Threads by Annie Dalton & Maria Dalton, 2006
Kisses by Judith Caseley, 1990
Loose Threads by Lori Ann Grover, 2002 (A 2005 RITBA Nominee)
My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World by Brian Yansky, 2003
My Sister's Wedding by Hannah R. Goodman, 2004
People Like Us by Barbara Cohen, 1987
The Queen of Dreamland by Ingrid Tomey, 1996
Secrets by Alane Ferguson, 1997
You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! by Fiona Rosenbloom, 2005
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher, 2001, (A 2002 RITBA Nominee)
Zazoo by Richard Mosher, 2001

Other Books by the Author:
Harmless, 2007

About the Author:
A Brief Chapter In My Impossible Life is my first novel.

There’s nothing like the first time something wonderful happens to you, like, for example, when you sit down to write your first novel and it actually gets published. I guess there’s nothing quite like the first time something just awful happens to you either. Those are moments you aren’t likely to forget.

So by way of introducing myself to you, let me share with you a list of my firsts:

My first love was a boy named Matthew in my pre-school class. He was very funny looking with a huge head of unruly curls, crooked teeth and rather prominent nostrils, but I loved him nonetheless. My best friend married us underneath a tree in the play yard and we used rubber bands as our wedding rings. Years later, when I arrived at college 3,000 miles away from that preschool play yard, I found him again. He had absolutely no idea who I was. That really pissed me off.

My first pet was a dog named Smokey. When he was two, he died after being bitten by a rattlesnake.

My first heartbreak was: see above.

My first earthquake was the big earthquake of 1971, or so I thought until today. I’ve carried around this story all my life about how I was such a sweet and mellow baby that I slept right through the big earthquake of 1971. But just now, when I went on the Internet to get the exact date of the big earthquake of 1971 I learned that it occurred on February 9th. I was born on March 11th. Hmmm…. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone to whom I’ve told that story about sleeping through the earthquake.

My first time crying so hard in a movie that my Dad had to carry me out of the theater was when I saw Pete’s Dragon. I cried on and off for days. It’s happened since. Well, not the part about having to be carried out of the theater by my father. I’m too big and he’s too old and his back is too weak. But I mean the part about crying for days. (Okay so I’m a big cryer in movies. I even cried in The Nutty Professor.)

And while we’re on the subject of crying, of really, really crying…

My first big cry over a book was Bridge to Terabithia. It made me want to be a writer.

My first big cry over a play was Death of a Salesman. It made me want to be anything but a salesman.

My first time on a moped lasted about 10 seconds. I drove it right into a brick wall and broke my wrist. I was fifteen. That was also my first time on Morphine and I asked the doctor to marry me.

My first concert was The Who’s final tour in 1983. I think they’ve had at least four more final tours since then.

My first job was working as a waitress at a dive where celebrities used to come and eat breakfast in their sweatpants. Eventually, the fact that celebrities came to eat breakfast in their sweatpants caught on, and there would be a line up the block. Pretty soon the celebrities stopped wearing sweatpants to breakfast.

My first husband is Daniel Sokatch. He’s cute. And funny. And really nice. He’ll always be my first husband no matter what, but I’m counting on there not being a second. Or a third…

My first child is my daughter Noa. Sometimes after spending the day with her my face hurts from smiling so much. (My second child is my daughter Zoe and she’s every bit as wonderful as my first.)

My first time writing my own biography for Random House’s “Author Spotlight” was today.

Thanks for reading.

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