Book Reviews

Review: The Name She Gave Me by Betty Culley

As an adoptee, I search every year for more and more books about adoption. So when the publisher contacted me about The Name She Gave Me I jumped at the chance. And this emotional story about family and names is emotionally moving. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.


When Rynn was born, her birth mother named her Scheherazade. It’s one of the only things Rynn has from her. Now sixteen, Rynn and her adoptive parents live on a small garlic farm in central Maine. Rynn’s father is kind and gentle but oblivious to Rynn’s mother’s temper and coldness toward their daughter.

Rynn has longed to know her birth family for years. She can’t legally open her adoption records until she turns eighteen, but that won’t stop her from searching on her own. She finds out that though her birth mother has died, she has a younger sister—who’s in foster care two towns away. But if Rynn reconnects with her biological sister, it may drive her adoptive family apart for good.


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

TW: panic attack, anti-semitic comment

From the very beginning, I loved the title. Being adopted, names are a huge deal. Sometimes we get one that is given to us. That feels like a mystery. A piece of a clue we never quite get over. And sometimes we never really know. For The Name She Gave Me, Rynn’s name is one that is a common theme. This idea of it telling a story that we can only begin to peek at. Featuring this story, told by an author who experienced adoption and the foster care system, The Name She Gave Me feels special.

It quickly becomes tender and emotional. And some moments feel like those times when you keep gently prodding a bruise. You know to expect the pain, but it’s like, “will it still hurt today?” With lyrical language and writing – this book is in verse – it’s a story about difficult family relationships. About family which we choose and which choose us. Culley explores both biological and adopted family and what they mean to us.

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Having Rynn’s sister’s POV was an added surprise which made the themes of family even more profound. I loved watching Rynn explore and unravel the mystery of her family. But even more than that, she has to figure out who she is. How to navigate the relationship with an absent mother, and one who is there, but also absent – in some ways. The Name She Gave Me is a story about looking for – and finding – family. It’s about losing it and realizing it’s around us even if we can’t see it. Find The Name She Gave Me on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


What is your favorite in verse novel?

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