Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book review: Chosen by Chandra Hoffman

Chosen by Chandra Hoffman

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
Published Date:  November 8, 2011
ISBN: 978-0061974311
Pages: 320
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Book Summary: Chosen features a young caseworker increasingly entangled in the lives of the adoptive and birth parents she represents, and who faces life-altering choices when an extortion attempt goes horribly wrong.

It all begins with a fantasy: the caseworker in her “signing paperwork” charcoal suit, paired with beaming parents cradling their adopted newborn, against a fluorescent-lit delivery room backdrop. It’s this blissful picture that keeps Chloe Pinter, director of The Chosen Child’s domestic adoption program, happy juggling the high demands of her boss and the incessant needs of parents on both sides.

But the job that offers Chloe refuge from her turbulent personal life and Portland’s winter rains soon becomes a battleground itself involving three very different couples: the Novas, college sweethearts who suffered fertility problems but are now expecting their own baby; the McAdoos, a wealthy husband and desperate wife for whom adoption is a last chance; and Jason and Penny, an impoverished couple who have nothing-except the baby everyone wants. When a child goes missing, dreams dissolve into nightmares, and everyone is forced to examine what they really want and where it all went wrong.

My Thoughts:  Chloe Pinter is a sweet, thoughtful woman who tries to find the good in everyone. She loves her job at the Chosen Child adoption agency where she represents both sets of parents in the adoption process. Chloe believes she's creating families, the part of her job she finds most rewarding.  A birth mother has to give up the baby in order for Chloe to create a family for another couple.  Chloe doesn't initially grasp how emotionally painful this can be for the birth parent(s)  despite the sadness, stress and anger often exhibited by the biological mother. Penny and Jason, a young couple pregnant with their first child, sign on with Chloe to create an adoption plan for their first baby. Jason and Penny are young, uneducated, unemployed and broke. Jason chooses Francie and John, an older, very wealthy couple to adopt their baby. Francie became close friends with Eva who, with her husband Paul, was trying to adopt a baby with Chloe's help when Eva became pregnant. During the months Chloe works with and is in contact with these couples, her life changes dramatically. Chloe learns some difficult, devastating  lessons and does some things that surprise even her as her life and the lives of these three couples are changed forever for better or worse.

Chosen is a compelling page-turner. Chandra Hoffman foreshadows the disturbing incident that happens to one family early on in the book. The tension builds as the story progresses, with periodic hints throughout the narrative, some subtle others more blatant, of this unsettling incident, until it feels like the book itself will crack in two.  When the climactic event finally occurs, it's not so shocking or disturbing for me as it was a relief because I'd been waiting for something big to happen for most of the novel. When I started reading Chosen, I knew a child would go missing since this is in the book summary. I didn't know which parent(s) or couple were involved or whose baby goes missing. This information is provided in the foreshadowing, along with other information, in too many of the chapters. By the time the child went missing, I felt as if I already knew too much of the story already.

Chosen is divided into chapters each dedicated to a specific character. The chapter headings include the name of the character thereby informing us whose story we'll primarily be reading in that chapter. Francie, one of the parents trying to adopt a child with Chosen Child's help, isn't one of the characters whose name heads a chapter.  Some of her story is told through emails she writes and many posts she writes on adoption message boards. Francie's posts and emails are tacked on at the end of chapters devoted to other characters which I found a little bit confusing and odd.  I thought this was an indication that Francie's not a very important secondary character, but the storyline doesn't support such a supposition.

Francie is an intriguing and irritating character who is desperate, insecure and troubled. She's wanted a child for a long time and she and John tried years of infertility treatments, finally deciding to try adoption. They signed up with Chosen Child and were finally chosen by Jason and Penny to be parents for their baby. Tact isn't one of Francie's strong traits.  She's also rather clueless about the impact her words, often carelessly spoken or written, can have.  Jason is an angry, volatile, greedy and abusive man. Penny is better, but not much.  I hoped to learn more about these characters, particularly their past and what may have occurred in their lives to make them difficult and unpleasant. Penny, for instance, was brutally raped at one point, but we aren't told much more about this traumatic incident.  Penny and Jason remain  until the end of the book, virtually impossible to like or feel sympathy for which made me feel baffled when Chloe does an extremely kind act for them towards the end of the novel.   I was able to feel some empathy for Francie in the second half of the book and understand her a bit more. I'd hoped after she discovers something that deeply impacts her life, Francie would open up and become a woman many readers could identify with and relate to but Francie remained a two-dimensional character  

I have similar but bigger issues with Chloe. I feel as if this fascinating character was introduced but we never got to know her all that well.  Ms. Hoffman provides hints about Chloe's past life, tantalizing us with tidbits, such as a once close relationship with her father or the twin step-sisters she doesn't want to live too far away from but these relationships are never developed and we never meet these family members. Chloe lives with her boyfriend, Dan, whom she loves but it's hard to understand why except that he's good-looking.  Dan's unemployed, frequently crabby and not very supportive of Chloe.  I'd hoped to learn more about the history of their relationship and therefore Chloe but we learn little more about them except that Dan is quite self-centered.  Chloe doesn't seem to see thisbut, since they're almost always arguing, she's often anxious about going home at the end of the day so why she stays with him is confusing. I hoped to learn more about Chloe and to be able to relate to her better as the book progressed.  Instead, despite being the main character in Chosen, I understood Chloe less by the end of the book than I did in the first half of Chosen.

Chandra Hoffman doesn't shy away from providing the wonders and pitfalls that accompany the process of adopting a child in this country with the assistance of a private agency. It's an intense, harrowing situation that can be a terrific experience or parents,  the costs involved and who gets paid and how much, rules and regulations of adopting domestically, which vary a bit from state to state, and also the intensity and emotional complexity of adopting a child. Ms. Hoffman weaves this information into the narrative effectively through Chloe's job and experience at Chosen Child and so well that it's an absorbing part of the storyline rather than a dry recitation of facts. Only when I finished Chosen did I realize how much I'd learned about the actuallyadoption process.

Chosen is a fast-paced, page-turning reading experience. On one level it's a fascinating, intense and emotional story. It was only when I finished the book and thought about it, that I realized I had many questions and few answers to my questions. I thought, hoped, I'd rushed through the book looking for the harrowing incident I knew was coming. I wanted it over with and resolved, hopefully in a good way. I went through Chosen, again, not explicitly reading it but reviewing and skimming what I'd read, thinking that in my enthusiasm to know the outcome of the story, I'd missed or forgotten detailed information about Chloe, Francie and other characters. Unfortunately, I didn't find answers to my questions.

Chandra Hoffman's debut novel is well-written and it's apparent she knows how the adoption process works and the emotional experience it can be for all involved. I think seven characters, almost all of whom are integral to the story, is awfully ambitious for a first-time novelist and may be partly why some fall short of the mark. I recommend Chosen for anyone who likes an informative, intense and engaging book that, once you start reading it, is difficult to put down.
Chandra Hoffman's website and blog

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Chosen and to Harper for a copy of the book.


  1. I bet this would be a good book for a book club to discuss.

    I had a student assistant once that was pregnant and then after the baby, we never heard of the baby and she intimated that the baby was no longer around. At first I was horror stricken, thinking the child had died but then bit by bit, from the comments she made, it started to sound as if she was a surrogate. When she opened her gift she looked confused. Can you say, awkward??

    Looking back, I can't imagine how hard it was for her, given that she already had a little boy at home.

  2. Sounds like an intense book. I'll have to recommend it to my sister, who wants to branch out into the adoption aspect of social work. Great review!

  3. Wow, that sounds like quite a book! We have quite a few friends and neighbors who have adopted children, so I suspect I would find this book fascinating.

  4. Adoption is a painful, exhilarating, wonderful, and life-changing experience for everyone involved. It sounds like, in spite of the flaws you found, the author really captured that breadth of emotions in this story.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour!

  5. I am starting this one in a few minutes, and am really looking forward to it. I sort of skimmed your review, as I dislike going into a book knowing too much, but will be back to read it in a couple of days. Glad that you enjoyed it!

  6. The story line seems just full of potential … but maybe this neeeded a little more seasoning to make it just right? perhaps they shouldn't have told the "big" secret right up front.

  7. Checking in as the author with thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful review!

    One of my goals in writing this story was to shine a light on a topic about which many may know a little, and to use multiple narrators to challenge perceptions, to spark conversation. Since coming out in hardcover a year ago, it has certainly done that! I've been a guest author at almost fifty book clubs where I love to hear reader's wide range of reactions to some of the issues and characters in CHOSEN.

    To celebrate the paperback release, I am holding a contest on my website:
    Buy one copy and win one for a friend so you can read together and discuss!

    Readers might also like to learn more about the story behind the story.... here:

    Thanks again to The House of Seven Tails--Happy reading!