It is with massive excitement that I finally have the chance to review fellow Deb Julie Clark’s debut novel, The Ones We Choose. Julie is the last of us to publish, and having her book on my shelf alongside the others feel like a family reunion … which is a great segue into what her story is about.
The great love of Paige Robson’s life is her son, Miles, whom she conceived using an anonymous sperm donor. An earnest, intense geneticist, Paige has difficulty with the intimacy of adult relationships: forsaken at a young age by her unreliable father, she battles against anyone getting too close to her—even her good-natured lover Liam—because she’s afraid of getting hurt. She also worries about interference with her relationship with her son. Even so, Paige’s life is fulfilling: she enjoys her home life and her (deliberately ironic) career researching the biological underpinnings of paternal attachment.
When other children in Miles’s school begin teasing him for not having a father, he struggles with his lack of knowledge, lashing out against Paige for the manner of his conception. As she seeks to expand her knowledge of the donor—Miles’s biological father—Paige uncovers an astonishing coincidence: not only is it possible she knows the donor, but he may be harboring a terrible secret.
It’s no secret that I’m a science nerd. So I got a kick out of the premise of this novel, which was beautifully enhanced by explanations of underlying genetic principles at the beginning of each chapter. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get want to get bogged down in technical language you won’t miss a crucial plot point by skipping these portions, but if you love the opportunity to soak up some education from your pleasure reading, these sections are for you. They’re engaging, easily understood, and highly enjoyable to read.
Now on to the emotional components of the story: before writing this, I took the time to read some of the other reviews posted of this novel and noticed how many people personally identified with Paige. She is fascinating: she’s such a well-drawn, complete personality, and her story is so compelling. I don’t want to say too much here about the assumptions and choices Paige makes because there are some surprising twists in the novel that kept me stuck to the page. As in all great character-driven fiction, I found myself completely immersed in the mind of the protagonist. Paige’s love for her son is the glue that holds the story together; with every page, you sense the longing she has for her little boy to be okay. I could relate to that so much. Clark’s prose is elegant and enticing; she weaves the story together in a way that feels effortless, but as a writer I know how difficult it is to captivate readers in this way. It’s suspenseful too: trust me, you will be desperate to reach the end of the book to find out what happens.
The Ones We Choose is a wonderfully crafted blend of science and soul … the perfect addition to your summer reading list.