You Were Always Mine: A Novel by Nicole Baart

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Evan wasn’t dead. Jess knew that. She knew it deep down in a place where she believed there was still a connection between herself and the man she had once called her home.

A busy school day morning, much like any other, is disrupted when Jess receives a phone call from a man named Deputy Mike Mullen near Minneapolis. There has been an accident, a middle-aged man is dead, but there is no way it could be her husband Evan. Recently separated,  but trying to work on their problems, she’d certainly know if he had traveled out of Iowa. The body has no identification, it doesn’t sound like him, his hair wasn’t gray! Why was her phone number in the victim’s pocket? This is the first mystery that will close around she and her children, her adoptive son Gabe in particular.

Dr. Evan Chamberlain’s abilities to provide for his family has never come into question nor his fierce dedication and passion to his practice. All his hard work has left little time for Jess and the children, consumed by his job she has felt their love receding. Separated, divorce looms but neither seems to be urgent to make final decisions.  She could never get enough of him, always wondered with wounded pride if he felt the deep love for her that she felt for him. With his distance, constant distraction, forgetting important meaningful dates, cooled passions, doubt crept in. Now this. When Evan doesn’t show up to pick the children up, nor answer her calls she has to face there might be more to this dead stranger, and her husband could be involved.

A closed adoption brought Gabe into the couple’s life, it suited her needs to be the only mother he would ever know.  After the call, and what follows, a break in occurs at her home, related to the incident. Betrayal rises to the surface when she discovers Evan has been in intimate  contact for years with Gabe’s birth mother.  It is the least of his secrets, and his involvement in something sinister is going to unravel the secure life she has been living with her sons. Just who is this woman, how had Evan allowed her to worm her way in? What does this mean for Gabe? Though blessed to have a biological elder son Max, it doesn’t make Gabe any less hers that she isn’t his birth mother. Why did Evan feel the need to communicate with this woman? Wasn’t she enough? What was between them, really?

What her husband was involved in is bigger than their family and someone will stop at nothing to make sure they aren’t exposed. It isn’t just the intimate letters to Gabe’s mother, there are notes (maybe clues) written on a business card, maybe answers to what Evan was up to before tragedy struck. He wasn’t a man who hid things, it was against his nature to deceive, it is a burning mystery. So why then the sudden subterfuge? Why was he staying at a motel, there are other strange tidbits, shaky connections that don’t add up, only lead to more questions. Then a file is found full of names… codes. One, according to Deputy Mullen means ‘prostitution’, a strange thing to be among Evan’s personal effects. But names, and criminal codes aren’t answers either, just another thing to add to Evan’s peculiar behavior.

Her dear friend Meredith was the social worker involved in their adoption of Gabe, now an honorary Auntie and a major support for Jess. Lately, Meredith has doubts about Jess and her parenting.  All she cares about is seeing Gabe properly cared for, even if speaking out will hurt their friendship. Now Jess is being accused of things that could threaten her hold on her children. Why would someone want to do that? Could it all tie into whatever Evan was working on? How is all of this connected to Gabe’s adoption?

This is a hard review to write when one must tread lightly on giving away the plot twists. It’s about birth mothers, those who manipulate women without choices, the good intentions that can sour clear thinking and the passion to right grievous wrongs even at the very risk of your own life.  It’s a psychological mystery about the underbelly of adoption. It’s about being so consumned by something you know is wrong, that those who need you desperately become impossible to see.

Not every reader will like Jessica, but her fierce devotion to her adoptive son and comfort in a closed adoption can be understood as fear is a great motivator. The threat of another woman, always looming somewhere out there makes such adoptions ideal, as much as said biological mother may not wish to be found. Maybe it’s easier for people, like social worker Meredith, to imagine those mothers as abusive, cold creatures, unfit women so they can swoop in and save the precious little ones. What if the narrative is wrong? What if in desperation people are urged to act against their wishes, until it is too late. What happens when those working the system abuse it? Should you remain blind if you yourself benefited?

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

Atria Books

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