Book Reviews

Review: The How & the Why by Cynthia Hand

As an adoptee, I don’t think I have the words to describe how much I adored The How & the Why. It’s a story that has the power to resonate with a lot of adoptees. The questions that you ask, “How and why?” How did I get to where I am and why?


A poignant exploration of family and the ties that bind, perfect for fans of Far From the Tree, from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand.

Today Melly had us writing letters to our babies…

Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

Alternating between Cass’s search for answers and letters from the pregnant teen who gave her up for adoption, this voice-driven narrative is the perfect read for fans of Nina LaCour and Jandy Nelson.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

This ownvoices adoption story touches on questions of origin. So often we see characters origins. The story behind what turned our favorite villain into a villain. The superhero origin story about where they got their powers. There are explanations for how they got their powers and, sometimes, why them. Even if it’s just luck, there’s an explanation. But for adoptees often these questions remain unanswered forever.

While neither Cass or Nyla, two characters who were adopted in The How & the Why, represent my adoption story, I could deeply resonate with this pull. And as an adoptee, my own relationship to searching for my birth parents has evolved over time. But I could never deny that the questions always existed. The representation in The How & the Why is absolutely phenomenal and I want a thousand other adoption stories. We are asked, will Cassandra find out how her story began? Why she was given up for adoption?

The Other Side

Hand is able to expertly create two stories in The How & the Why – both Cassandra’s and her biological mother’s story. Told in letters from Cassandra’s birth mother to Cassandra, we are able to see not only how much time has changed, but the other side to the story. The build up and the fall. Through this perspective we are able to ask about questions of sacrifice and selfishness. The book is an emotional ride, but Hand allows readers to deepen their understanding of adoption and what it means to be adopted.

Through this perspective we are also able to see the different experiences of other teen mothers. How their families reacted and their own thoughts. The ways they also feel abandoned, or the situations that lead to their pregnancy. It is a thoughtful portrayal of the complexity of adoption and the struggle that some mothers undergo to decide not only if they should give their child up for adoption, but also to find good parents for their child.


The How and the Why is spectacular. It’s introspective, emotional, and thought provoking. I hope that people read it and can begin to see the complexities of adoption. I would love to see a story from Cassandra’s best friend, Nyla’s perspective! It’s a story that examines how we will always wonder who we are, the how and the why, and even if we have the answers we’ve always searched for, they are never the end of the story.

Find The How & the Why on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.


What is your favorite ownvoices story?

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