Unable to make her adoptive mother, Leanne Parkman, happy, Rynn gives up after Mom critiqued her homemade birthday gift placemats sewn by Rynn at age twelve. Although Rynn compares Mom to a dormant volcano that explodes without warning, she loves her Jewish father who was raised in New York but now grows garlic on a farm in Maine.

Rynn’s birthmother was twenty when she gave birth to baby girl and named her Scheherazade. Legend defines the name, but Rynn decides it might be a survival trick for her: “I’m wondering if my birthmother wanted me to know that in order to survive without the truth of who I am and where I come from, I would also have to make up stories to get through the night” (5).

Inspired by her personal experiences with foster care and adoption, author Betty Culley writes The Name She Gave Me to explore how an origin story grounds us and how we become what we are named. Readers will not only discover the value of knowing our roots and family but learn something of the strategies we use to protect ourselves and the people we love.

Told in verse, Culley’s poignant novel follows Rynn’s search for her birthmother and any siblings. Wondering what it would feel like to find a sister, Rynn searches with the help of June Tibbetts, her best friend whose beautiful green eyes don’t judge.

When Alexander, the neighbor’s stepson, arrives for the summer, he teaches Rynn that “it helps to call things by their right names” (48) and that something becomes what we name it. For the first time, Rynn experiences what it is like to be heard and seen. Alexander asks probing questions that guide Rynn to mine for clues to her identity and give her the confidence to claim her voice and escape her dire circumstances—that “Dad might have a blind spot for Mom—she’s so close to him, he can’t always see what she’s doing—and he doesn’t bother to turn his head [to see that she’s deliberately cruel]. If that’s what it means by love is blind, I don’t want that kind of love” (190).

Culley tells the heartbreaking and heartwarming story of self discovery amidst a fracturing family and a search that bears fruit. Sorella Buzzell–age nine with her say-what-she-thinks personality–helps Rynn find her worth and helps to fill her emptiness.

  • Posted by Donna

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