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It’s 1946, and 22-year-old Genevieve Ryder finds herself in a precarious situation, carrying the baby of a man who is engaged to someone else. Her mother, Antoinette, is controlling, blunt and judgemental, not at all the source of support and care Gen needs at such a vulnerable time. Other family members are more loving but tend to toe the line where her mother is concerned. 

Gen has no idea where to turn or what to do and, in those days, unwed mothers often went to “homes” to gestate and give birth, only to return to their lives with empty arms. But Gen wants a different outcome for her life. When she decides to keep the baby despite the huge stigma of being a single mother in the 1940s, her decision will echo throughout her life, for good and for bad.  

As befits a novel with the words “unfortunate life” in the title about the main character, Sammy Beuker’s debut novel does not sugarcoat the realities of emotional cruelty, domestic violence, and the rippling effects of trauma into second and third generations. The ending is not tied up in a neat bow, leaving lots of room for questions and discussion. Why did Gen make the choices she made? Would her daughter’s life have turned out better if Gen had relinquished her for adoption? Would Gen’s life have been less tumultuous or even more so?

Beuker, a youth ministry director at a Christian Reformed church, has written an engrossing, propulsive story of one woman’s choices and how they impact the rest of her life. Though written for a mainstream audience, Beuker’s faith resonates through the book, and the reader is not left without hope. Still, sensitive readers should know that though there are no sex scenes or profanity, there are some graphic scenes depicting domestic violence and abortion.

In author notes, Beuker tells readers about the personal inspiration for the novel: 

“In 2008, the grandmother I met once but didn’t remember, died. About six months later, I received a package from the estate in the mail. Inside was a stack of pictures from the 1960s and a baby’s christening gown and shoes that were yellowed with age. There was no note explaining who the people in the pictures were, nor any note telling me who the gown was for … I heard whispers of a second baby besides my mom …I’ve always wondered who my grandmother really was. I wonder who that baptismal dress was for. I wonder who the man in those photographs was, because the only thing I know is that he was not my grandfather.”

In imagining what might have happened in her grandmother’s life, Beuker has written a page turner that offers lots to think about and, if read in a book club, to discuss. (Credo)

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