‘Where We Belong’: two sides of an adoption story

Emily Giffin displays impressive empathetic gifts in her latest novel, “Where We Belong” (St. Martin’s Press), which digs into the highly charged issue of adoption, from both sides of the equation.

The book’s opening section gives a reader the impression that we will be following the story of a successful 36-year-old television producer named Marian Caldwell, who is living in the Manhattan fast lane.

We are tipped to the fact that Marian has been keeping a secret from her friends and the older co-worker she wants to marry, but the woman is so likeable and her job is so interesting that a reader might figure Marian will get to that secret sooner or later and that it won’t be such a big deal after all.

The first ten pages of “Where We Belong” have all of the glamour of one of those aspirational “chick lit” novels that exert such a powerful hold on young women who dream of being in the same position as the protagonist.

But then another first person narrator, Kirby Rose, enters the story, and we learn that 18 years earlier Marian gave her up for adoption when she was just about to graduate from high school in Chicago.

Kirby was adopted by a St. Louis couple thrilled to have a child. The girl loves her parents but has always wondered about her birth parents.

Giffin gives us two totally convincing protagonists, so we get to see a very complex human drama from both of the players. The novelist is so good at the split view that I found myself being pulled back and forth in terms of sympathy — just when we think Marian is dominating the situation (and the novel), Kirby moves in to convince us that she is the one we should care most about.

Giffin has a written a domestic story with a strong element of suspense — as both Marian and Kirby ponder a reunion with the long gone birth father. Although these characters and their dilemma are far removed from my own situation in life, the writer made me care so deeply about the women — and what was going to happen to them — that I raced through the book as if it was the latest Jack Reacher story by Lee Child.

(Emily Giffin will be talking about “Where We Belong” tonight at 7 p.m. at the Greenwich Library. A feature on the novelist will appear in our Sunday Pulse section on July 29.)