A travel advisor embarks on a momentous trip of her own to search for her birth mother in this novel of, as the subtitle says, “friendship, loyalty, love, searching, and healing.”
The night before her adoptive mother’s funeral, 32-year-old Joanna Johansen’s childhood friend Janene asks her out of the blue, “What would you do if you knew the name of your birth mom? If you knew where she was living when she had you?” Janene knows this information because she investigated years ago when Jo showed her and their other two best girlfriends a box her birth mother left for her.
Following this, Jo’s present tragedy alternates with chapters about a runaway teenager named Dixie who gives up her baby for adoption. Jo uses her knowledge as a travel consultant to follow Dixie’s trail to Mexico, where she looks for her birth mother, savors the country’s natural beauty and hospitable culture and flirts with romance. So begins a journey of mother and daughter to confront the past and move into a future without the guilt, anguish, and mystery that have festered in their hearts like a thorn.
There’s a lot to enjoy here: The descriptions of Mexico’s landscape, food, and friendly people are fresh and vibrant. The author delves sensitively but relentlessly into the layers of Joanna’s nagging sense of abandonment and Dixie’s tortured memories of childhood sexual abuse and guilt. Jo’s four very distinct friends and the two men she falls for lighten the emotional load.
There’s a lot more telling than showing, however. And while the search is involved and suspenseful, with a satisfying payoff, the book could have been more focused on the drama and less on the meals, boat trips, art gallery strolls, and RV parks. It also needs professional proofreading; typos and obvious wrong words interrupt the flow.
Ultimately, though, this an intriguing story of hunting courageously for a place to rest.
Also available as an ebook.