The How and the Why – Cynthia Hand – HarperTeen – Published 5 November 2019




Today Melly had us writing letters to our babies…

Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

My thoughts

The How and the Why is a touching, remarkable novel about family. Cynthia Hand delivers sad and funny moments that will have readers chuckling even as they wipe away tears. A story about adoption, belonging, acceptance and love.

Cass has always known she was adopted. It’s something her parents have shared with her, even if there were no details about her birth parents, their lives or why they gave her up for adoption. But as Cass’s mother waits for a heart transplant that seems increasingly unlikely, Cass is struck by a desire to find her birth mother.

Cass is a likeable character. She is funny, a good friend, loves her parents, is concerned about doing the right thing, makes mistakes, says and does things she regrets, knows that looking for her birth parents could cause her parents hurt and doesn’t want to do that, loves drama and acting and singing, and is basically a nice, thoughtful, flawed teenager. It is enjoyable to read as she navigates friendships, crushes and her end-of-school days, and makes choices about her future,

Spaced between Cass’s story are letters written by Cass’s birth mother. They are long, detailed letters and so wonderfully capture the voice, fears and hopes of this young woman facing pregnancy and the adoption of her child. I think these letters were my favourite part of the story. They provide enough detail to give the reader a full picture of her life and decisions. And the way they are scattered into Cass’s story was done perfectly.

Unsurprisingly, this book is about family. Cass loves her parents and they share a wonderful, open relationship. Cass’s mother is sick, waiting for a heart transplant and this situation and her mother’s support for Cass’s search for her birth mother brought tears to my eyes. Cass also has the support of a loving extended family (I almost died laughing during the scene we first meet Cass’s grandmother and uncle. Awkward). The way The How and the Why discusses adoption and family, the choice to put a child up for adoption and the search for birth parents was done with so much heart.

There is so much to this book – crushes on boys, complicated friendships (the friendship between Nyla and Cass was awesome and so authentic), further education choices, financial difficulties, the impact of coming out to an unsupportive family. I really enjoyed this story and fell in love with the characters. But that epilogue!! Seriously. That it NOT how you end a book. Now I’m going to need a sequel just to find out what happens in those final few moment. Seriously. I’m kind of mad right now. Luckily, the book is worth it.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction

Genre: Contemporary

Themes: Adoption, teenage pregnancy, family, birth parents, adoptive parents, friendship, letters, acting, musicals, singing, LGBT.

Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.

Advisory: References to sex, with some details. References to pregnancy and birth. References to drug and alcohol use. Coarse language – f*** (4), sh** (15), sl** (4), pi** (3), bit** (7), as***** (4).

Published: 5 November 2019 by HarperTeen.

Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook. 464 pages.

ISBN: 9780062693167

Find it on Goodreads