Review: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson @maddiedawson1

Goodreads|Amazon|Author Website
Release date: October 25, 2016

Publisher: Lake Union

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Goodreads blurb: 

Three women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semiadrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA. 


Lake Union has done it again! They are quickly becoming one of my most valued and trusted publishers, it’s getting to the point where I’ll read anything they publish. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this one, but when this gorgeous book showed up in my mailbox, I was immediately interested, then I read the blurb and was even more intrigued. I can’t even imagine not knowing anything about my parents, the uncertainty and heartbreak must be devastating.

Nina Popkin is one of those characters that grabs the reader from page one and holds on tightly. I immediately took to her and felt a connection to her, she has a funny self deprecating sense of humor, she’s smart and sharp, and she’s raw and real. She’s recently divorced, with no children and her adoptive mother passed away. She’s all alone, with the exception of her friend Melanie, and she has a deep longing to reconnect with her birth mother. When the opportunity to finally find her mom presents itself,she is thrilled beyond belief.

Lindy is the sister that Nina never knew she had. She always assumed that she was her birth mothers only child and this revelation fills Nina’s heart with longing and love. Lindy doesn’t feel the same way whatsoever, she wants her past to stay there and she has no desire to form any kind of relationship with either Nina or their mom, Phoebe. But Nina is an eternal optimist and she’s not giving up on reuniting her family without a fight.

This story is told mainly from Nina and Lindy’s point of view, but there are pivotal chapters told from Phoebe’s perspective as well. Though they may share DNA, these three have very little in common. Lindy is an anxiety ridden wife and mom to three young children. She’s made a happy and successful life for herself and has no desire to shake up her perfect existence. Phoebe is a loner who has spent the last thirty three years since she gave the girls up for adoption in pain and sorrow.  Can these women unite and try to sort through their feelings about their shared history together? Or is it too late for a chance at true family happiness?

The character development here is outstanding. Nina is an emotional wreck at the beginning, but soon she meets Carter, a divorced dad of two teenagers that brings some love and light back into her life. Tyler and Indigo are his kids, and soon Nina finds herself thrust into a parental role with them. She’s wanted to be a part of a real family for so long that she clings to them, even to her own detriment. Lindy thinks she’s happy and that her life is picture perfect, but when she meets Nina, she soon finds that maybe she has been longing for something more as well. Phoebe is pretty cold and closed off, but by the end we see a whole new side to her and there is an understanding about her past actions.

I kept thinking about Emily Giffin’s books while reading this, it had some very similar qualities to her books and I mean that in the best way as she’s written some of my favorite books. This was such a heartfelt and tender read, but Dawson infused it with so many quirky and fun moments that there were times I was smiling through my tears. All of these women will stay with me for awhile, but Nina especially left a mark on heart. I wholeheartedly recommend this one for anyone who likes writers like Giffin, but also anyone who longs for a raw and real story about family. 

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to Kathleen Zrelak for providing my review copy, I’m so grateful.

9 thoughts on “Review: The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson @maddiedawson1

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