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Nine People Under One Roof for Two Weeks? Have Fun!

Welcome to Group Text, a monthly column for readers and book clubs about the novels, memoirs and short-story collections that make you want to talk, ask questions and dwell in another world for a little bit longer.

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Three families who are connected through open adoption embark on an ambitious vacation that goes awry after an announcement — and a request — from their kids’ birth mother.

We all have different expectations of our relatives. What happens when we’re inextricably linked not by blood but by paperwork? Brown’s story shows the best- and worst-case scenarios.

In this season of forced family fun, I have to admit that I basked in a warm glow of validation when I encountered these lines in Eleanor Brown’s new novel, ANY OTHER FAMILY (Putnam, 368 pp., $27): “How odd that they came on vacation only to feel further apart from each other. When she thinks of how close she hoped they would all become during these weeks together, she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

The destination is Aspen, Colo., and the rental is the kind I fantasize about while hanging my bathing suit on a rusty nail in yet another deceptively photographed vacation rental. (Why do I always fall for the claw foot tub?) It’s a chateau-like spread with mountain views, a pool, a well-stocked kitchen and proximity to wholesome activities: hiking, boating, horseback riding, disc golf and bumper cars.

Brown’s characters do their best to enjoy the spread but their group dynamic is complicated. “They look like any other family,” Brown writes. “They are a family formed by three sets of parents who adopted from the same group of biological siblings.” Ginger is the mother of the eldest, Phoebe; Tabitha and Perry, bankrollers of the vacation, are raising twins, Tate and Taylor; and, after an exhausting run on the fertility treadmill, Elizabeth and John are finding their footing as parents of baby Violet. The adults have promised their children’s birth mother, Brianna, that they will raise the siblings to be part of one another’s lives. Think birthday parties, holidays, Sunday dinners — and now this getaway.

Brown could have assembled a perfectly entertaining itinerary from the politics, parenting differences and pre-existing problems of the Aspen crew; instead, she ratchets up the tension with a call from Brianna, who has regretfully declined an invitation to the bacchanal. (Why anyone would miss out on Tabitha’s artful parade of mini quiches, butter bean dip and ham and melon on sustainable toothpicks is a mystery to me.) Brianna has news: She’s pregnant for the fourth time. Might someone in the house want another baby? And if not, will the current parents locate a family for Brianna’s future bundle of joy?

This is when “Any Other Family” graduates from fun frolic with hints of stress to full-bodied exploration of family ties, especially those made by choice. Brown breaks up tense alpine adventures with letters from prospective parents who run the gamut from desperate to hopeful to ambivalent. Their experiences add depth and texture to this unexpectedly philosophical tale, as do the kids’ moving questions about their impending sibling.

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

Sally Rooney’s latest novel, a reckoning with race and sisterhood in Chicago and a rumination on the limits of technology on human life are some of the paperbacks in our latest roundup.

These titles offer a variety of genres and narratives for any reader →

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU, by Sally Rooney

Rooney’s third book follows two friends — a young, successful novelist and an editorial assistant in Dublin — as they navigate romantic relationships and contemplate class and climate change over email. In his review, Brandon Taylor called it Rooney’s best novel yet.

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

THREE GIRLS FROM BRONZEVILLE: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood, by Dawn Turner

Turner’s gripping memoir recounts growing up in Chicago’s South Side and reflects on the tragedies that befell her sister and her best friend, both victims of a society that treats Black life as disposable.

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

ONE TWO THREE, by Laurie Frankel

In this hopeful novel, triplets help save their small town after discovering that their new neighbors are behind the company polluting its river and poisoning its residents. Our reviewer, Janice Y.K. Lee, praised the “full and simple pleasures of Frankel’s luscious prose.”

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

APPLESEED, by Matt Bell

Bell’s novel tracks our planet’s progression from a lush, 18th-century Eden to the barren hellscape it becomes centuries later. In his review, Laird Hunt wrote that “Appleseed” is “a highly welcome addition to the growing canon of first-rate contemporary climate fiction.”

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

GOD, HUMAN, ANIMAL, MACHINE: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning, by Meghan O’Gieblyn

O’Gieblyn tackles robotic dogs, transhumanism and Silicon Valley to show how our data obsession has supplanted a once qualitative understanding of life.

6 New Paperbacks to Check Out This Week

Miguel Salazar�� Reading a whole lot of books in Brooklyn

ALL THE WATER I’VE SEEN IS RUNNING, by Elias Rodriques

In this debut, a young Jamaican American teacher living in New York returns to his northern Florida hometown and frantically searches for answers after he receives news that his close high school friend has been killed in a car accident.

Published on July 8, 2022.

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