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Relative Strangers


Relative Strangers

When Jules searches for a baby photo to put in the high school yearbook, the high school senior finds clues to a missing chapter of her life. A photo album, paperwork from a social services agency and a sapphire blue scarf-packed away in an old box- spark Jules’ curiosity. The 18-year-old soon discovers that she was once a foster child. A moving story of family, friendship and betrayal thoughtfully unfolds in RELATIVE STRANGERS by Paula Garner.

The well-crafted novel takes place in a small Chicago suburb. “Not much ever changed in Maplebrook,” where Jules lives with her single mom in a dilapidated, rented ranch house. Jules confesses, “Our house was a thing of sadness, and our dispassionate mother-daughter team wasn’t exactly Disney Channel material.” Sadness pervades the descriptive pages until Jules finds hope in a loving brother from her former foster family.

"RELATIVE STRANGERS is a beautifully written, sensitive story to add to your summer reading list."

Jules sets out to locate Luke Margolis --- whose name is neatly stitched into her worn scarf --- after her mom, Abby, admits that she had placed Jules in foster care for 19 months. How does the shocked teen find a long-lost foster brother? On Facebook, of course! The very cute Luke with dark blond hair and hazel eyes is now a college senior and a talented pianist studying in Wisconsin. After several startling messages (i.e. “Please tell me this isn’t a joke. Is this really Jules??”) the two reunite. Author Paula Garner packs her story with emotional drama.

The gripping story soon becomes a serious soap opera as Jules reconnects with the affectionate family who cared for her when her own mother was battling alcohol addiction. The Margolis family warmly welcomes Jules back into their lives at a time when they are struggling with their own heartbreak: Luke’s mom Sarah has cancer. To complicate matters, Jules develops a crush on Luke, her “pseudo-brother.” As I read RELATIVE STRANGERS, I became drained from the drama. Alcoholism, foster care and cancer add up to too many serious topics for one novel.

Yet these themes send meaningful messages to readers: don’t take anyone for granted, and make the best of what you have now. Jules often wonders what it would have been like to be raised by a mom and a dad, but then she realizes there would be “no Luke, no Margolises.” The 18-year-old accepts her situation and sees the positive. Jules believes that “the best things in life always seemed to be doled out in limited portions.” Perhaps that is why she savors food (especially chocolate croissants), adores her BFFs Gab and Leila and relishes her time with Luke. Genuine Jules is a heroine we can all learn from.

Like Jules, most teens have struggled to understand their parents’ actions at one time or another. Author Paula Garner succeeds in giving readers characters they can relate to. Jules’ first person narration is powerful because it is so personal. Her feelings seem genuine, and her quirky friends capture the conflicts of teendom. RELATIVE STRANGERS is a beautifully written, sensitive story to add to your summer reading list.

Reviewed by Juliette G., Teen Board Member on May 9, 2018

Relative Strangers
by Paula Garner