Book Review: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin
Author Emily Giffin manages to keep us realistically engaged in the thought lives of both characters. We experience the crisis of identity that is taking place within both Marian and Kirby. Kirby’s is a common transition into adulthood. Marian, however, is finding herself jolted out of the comfortable life she has created.
It isn’t easy to make it in the television industry. A hit show requires risk taking, tenacity and a confidence that isn’t easily shaken. Marian Caldwell has worked hard to reach that coveted spot as a New York television producer. Now, if she could just get her boyfriend to make a commitment regarding their future, her personal life would be just as fulfilled as her career.
Kirby Rose lives in a totally different world. She has grown up in a quiet, small town in Illinois. Now a senior in high school, she still hasn’t figured out where she fits in the world, or in her own family, for that matter. There are only two things she knows for sure. One is that she loves playing the drums. The other is the fact that she is very different from the rest of her family. She loves them dearly, but she just didn’t seem to fit in any more.
Where We Belong takes us into the lives of these two women, 18 years apart in age and more than a thousand miles apart on the map. The 36-year-old woman is certain of who she is and what she wants; the younger woman is struggling to find her bearings. When the two meet, a process of self-discovery begins for both them.
Author Emily Giffin manages to keep us realistically engaged in the thought lives of both characters. We experience the crisis of identity that is taking place within both Marian and Kirby. Kirby’s is a common transition into adulthood. Marian, however, is finding herself jolted out of the comfortable life she has created. Accused of hiding the truth of her past under lies, half-truths and deception by silence, Marian is forced into a brutal re-examination of her own life choices and priorities.
The sudden appearance of Kirby on Marian’s doorstep necessitates a trip backward in time. Marian takes us back to the summer following her graduation from high school. This was her own time of discovery, trying to determine who she was and what she wanted for her future.
As she recalls and relives the experiences of the summer romance when she was 18, Marian struggles to merge her current reality with the memories she has tried so hard to erase. They are secret memories. These are secrets that have been kept hidden from everyone she knows: her best friends, her boyfriend, even her father.
Kirby has opened the tunnel to the past and Marian’s secrets are no longer hidden—at least, not all of them. Seeing the upheaval caused in her relationships when just one secret is revealed, Marian is left in turmoil. There are more secrets. What will the reaction be to the rest of her story? Can she even face it herself?
The author continues to weave the stories of Marian and Kirby together, being careful not to tell us any more than she wants us to know. We get to know Kirby’s parents, sister and friends. Marian’s boyfriend has a son and an ex-wife. He also happens to be her boss, making their relationship even more complex. Piece by piece, the puzzle begins to come together.
As the true picture of the past takes shape, it inevitably affects the current reality. Questions find answers and raise more questions. In the end, Marian has had all her secrets brought into the light. The process has been both painful and freeing.
Some of the characters introduced through the story seem to be either unnecessary or lacking in depth and detail. The second seems more likely. Marian’s father plays a significant role in the final chapters, but their close relationship is almost a surprise, with little indication of it in Marian’s reflections of the past. The same is true of her current friends. They seem to be stuck into the story to give Marian some kind of life beyond her work environment. But these are minor ingredients to the story.
In the end, true identities and priorities formulate for both Kirby and Marian. They discover things about themselves and about their places in life that had been clouded by the uncertainty of the unknown. They discover—where they belong.