I feel like Julie’s book and Lara’s both drove home a similar message for me: You do not owe toxic people a place in your life. It really pleases me to see more fiction preaching that, even as it acknowledges how hard making that choice can be.
The Ones We Choose is such a smart family drama. Julie has brilliantly balanced her characters’ emotions with fascinating scientific details. Her main character, Paige, is a genetic scientist researching the coding that affects a person’s ability to bond with others, and her work deftly intertwines with her own struggles as she negotiates relationships with her absentee father, her mother and sister, her donor-sperm-conceived son, and the new friends she’s making along the way. Though the book is a narrative, I also feel like I learned a lot about genetics from reading it! The chapters are intercut with mini-scientific-treatises that I just ate up.
Paige’s story and conflicts are gripping — She’s a fantastic character, whose pain and hesitations and hopes all feel very real. Since the book is in her voice, and since that voice is so wonderful, the reader can’t help but want to side with her. I was entirely on her side right from the start. Her reasoning made perfect sense to me, and I completely understood her reluctance to open herself up to further hurts, considering what she had suffered in the past. Seriously, every time her mother started giving her grief or her sister started arguing with her, I was there shouting, “You don’t owe toxic people shit!” Whoever they are to you, you do not owe people infinite second chances. When they’ve shown you who they are, believe them — and if they regret that and repent and want to beg forgiveness, well, that’s their life lesson to learn, not yours. Women, particularly, are so often told that we’re here to foster other people’s (usually men’s) emotional development, that we should roll over to give them the chance to become better people. But y’know what? If they really want to be better, they’ll do that on their own. We do not need to be their crucible and catalyst.
And yet, though it’s all from Paige’s perspective and though I’m completely on her side, Julie also brings out the very real counterarguments that people will make in these situations. As a reader, I sympathized with Paige’s family’s desires to reunite and make nice, because that’s so real. And that’s what gives the story a lot of its punch. Having been in toxic dynamics in the past — and those come in all forms, from romantic relationships to family to friendships — I can recognize the rationalization. I recognize the yearning. And I recognize the point where you just finally say, “No. Enough. I will not bleed any more for your comfort.”
The Ones We Choose is a compelling read start-to-finish. At each turn of the story, it deals with so much of what it means to be human, from our genes to our memories to our blind spots to our capacity to heal. Get your copy now!