Suzanne Chauvin was six years old when her parents died. Her aunt and uncle were prepared to take on her care, but not that of her younger brother Lucien and baby sister Linette. All of her life she’s felt guilty that she couldn’t do anything to keep the three of them together, and now in her early thirties, she decides to take the bull by the horns. Or at least let Mark Kinkaid, a P.I. specializing in adoption searches, handle the bull.
Mark is an adoptive parent himself, so he knows that reunions between birthparents, siblings, and children don’t always go smoothly. He is a little taken aback however, when in the course of contacting Linette Chauvin, now known as Carrie St. John, it becomes clear that she has no idea she was adopted. For Carrie this conversation isn’t just shocking, it’s life-changing. She must now confront the fact that her parents lied to her all of her life and that her assumptions about herself were based on those lies. And on top of that – she has a sister! Fortunately, Mark is a caring man and volunteers to talk or listen anytime she needs an ear. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s drop-dead sexy as well.
The real meat of the story here is about Carrie and her families, not about Mark and finding true love. But that’s okay – there’s still some compelling reading here. This is the first book in Johnson’s Lost…But Not Forgotten series which, one assumes, will also revolve around the issue of adoption and, more specifically, Suzanne and Lucien’s stories. Johnson includes a good deal of background information about adoption and how it affects children, adoptive parents, and birthparents emotionally. This is presented tactfully and with respect to all parties involved. For example, Carrie’s parents obviously blundered in what they told (and didn’t tell) Carrie about her history, but Johnson still presents them as sympathetic characters, flawed but loving. Mark is better able to understand what drove those decisions, because he also adopted a child with his late wife and knows something about the fears and insecurities adoptive parents sometimes face. However, Carrie’s feelings of betrayal are not minimized, and Johnson allows her to think and act as a normal person would in this kind of situation.
Mark and Carrie are both nice people who deserve each other, although Mark does sometimes feel a little idealized. His complete sympathy and willingness to be a shoulder for Carrie, a person he has only very recently met, give him a bit of an angelic aspect. But perhaps such men really do exist out there. One can only hope.
On a personal note: as an adoptive parent I found this book a little hard to read at times. As mentioned before, Johnson handles this subject respectfully, but realistically. Several times characters ask or make reference to Carrie’s “real family,” meaning her family of origin (eventually Carrie herself becomes annoyed at this and addresses it). In this case, the Chauvins really were a “real family” to Carrie, of course, but each time I read that phrase I instinctively felt defensive; I wanted to stick my finger in the book and point out to these characters that a “real mom” is the one who sits up with a sick child at night and changes all of those diapers, and worries whether her child is brushing his teeth enough or choosing the right friends. Biology isn’t everything. Further, some of the scenes, particularly those with Carrie’s adoptive parents, really hit me in an emotional place and made me think more about what belonging means in terms of family and what kind of love is healthiest between a parent and child. But, ultimately, one of the measures of a good book is how much it makes you think, and this one certainly did its job.
I keep recommending Janice Kay Johnson to people who dismiss category romances or have given up on them. Johnson’s characters are down-to-earth types who pay their taxes, weather difficult family problems, and adopt pets from animal shelters. They are the kind of people you’d like to know. If you’re tired of preposterous category romance storylines that could never happen in real life, but like complex stories with a good dollop of emotion, Open Secret is a book I’d recommend you seek out.