One of our recommended books for 2019 is The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand

THE HOW AND THE WHY


A poignant exploration of family and the ties that bind, from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand.

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—but she has questions, too. 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.

more …

A poignant exploration of family and the ties that bind, from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand.

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—but she has questions, too. 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 placed her for adoption, this emotionally resonant narrative is the perfect read for fans of Nina LaCour and Jandy Nelson.

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  • HarperTeen
  • Paperback
  • November 2019
  • 464 Pages
  • 9780062693167

Buy the Book

$17.99

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About Cynthia Hand

Cynthia Hand is the author of The How and the WhyCynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens, including the Unearthly trilogy, The Afterlife of Holly Chase, The Last Time We Say Goodbye, and My Lady Jane and My Plain Jane (with fellow authors Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows). She currently resides in Boise, Idaho, with her husband, who loves typewriters as much as she does, two cats, two kids, one crazy dog, and a mountain of books.

Author Website

Praise

“This compassionate story rings true.” – Publishers Weekly

“The novel’s great strength is the emotional depth of its characters and the complexity of their relationships. A heartfelt and hopeful story about coming of age as an adoptee.” – School Library Journal

“Hand explores adoption’s multiple dimensions with great insight and sensitivity. Inclusive and illustrative: an engaging lesson in timeless family values.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Cynthia Hand is the master of pulling at your heartstrings. The How & the Why tells both sides of an adoption story with love, compassion, and care. You’ll be reaching for your tissue box with this one — if you can stop turning pages long enough, that is.” – Brigid Kemmerer, New York Times Bestselling Author of Letters to the Lost

“Beautifully rendered and superbly shaped. Hand has crafted an absorbing novel that focuses on family, friendship, teen pregnancy, adoption, personal choices, and serious health issues. Give this exquisite novel to readers seeking an emotionally intricate story.”
– Booklist (starred review)

Discussion Questions

1. In the first letter, S refers to herself as a “host body.” What do you think her intention was in referring to herself in that way?

2. In Chapter 2, Cass’s mom tells her, “the universe unfolds as it should.” Knowing how to novel ends, does this prove to be true? Do you agree?

3. In Chapter 8, Cass speaks about her “back up dream.” Did you believe her? Can we have “back up dreams?”

4. When S is driving with her mom to the clinic, they hit ice on the road and spin around. She believes it was a sign. Do you believe the universe sends signs? Has anything ever changed the direction you were headed?

5. When S goes to tell Dawson about their baby, she backs out at the last second and decides to write him a letter instead. Why do you think this is? What about putting it in a writing made it easier to say?

6. Throughout the novel, Cass refers to “the green monster.” Is this an accurate way to describe jealousy? Do you think Cass dealt with her jealousy well?

7. Even after Melly tells her she’s no longer required to write letters, S continues writing them. Why do you think she kept going?

Excerpt

1

“Happy birthday, Cass,” says Nyla.

“Thanks.” I dunk a chip into the salsa and eye the mariachi band singing in the corner of the restaurant. I hope Nyla didn’t tell them it’s my birthday.

“So how does it feel,” she asks, “the great one eight?”

I shrug. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal?” she scoffs. “But now you can buy cigarettes.”

“Ew.” I crunch the chip. “Like I would ever.”

“Agreed—ew—but you can do so much now,” she elaborates. “You can purchase lottery tickets. You can open your very own bank account, or get a tattoo. You can drink alcohol in Europe.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that.”

“My point is, now you’re a grown-up.” She leans forward across the table, like she’s about to impart some secret of the universe. “You’re an adult,” she whispers.

I lean forward, too. “I kind of liked being a kid.”

She sighs and sits back. “Boo. You’re no fun.”

“You’re just jealous because you’re not going to be eighteen for another twenty-nine days.” I love lording it over Nyla that I’m exactly one month older than she is. And therefore wiser.

She scoffs. “When we’re forty you’re going to wish you were the younger one.”

“When we’re forty, I definitely will.” I grin. “But right now I’m happy to be your elder.”

She sticks her tongue out at me.

“Hey, now. Respect your elders,” I scold her, and she rolls her eyes.

I check my watch. It’s seven thirty. Still time to sneak in to see Mom. “We should get going,” I start to say, but at that moment the mariachi guys show up to serenade me with “Happy Birthday” in Spanish. Nyla sings along as I glare at her. The waitress plops a giant serving of fried ice cream down in front of me, a single candle burning in the middle.

Everyone in Garcia’s turns to look.

Oh wow . . . thank you . . . so much.” I blow out the candle and push the bowl of melty ice cream into the middle of the table so Nyla can share. “I hate you, by the way.”

“No, you don’t.” She licks ice cream off her spoon. “I’m pretty sure you love me.”

“Fine, I love you,” I grumble. I notice that the elderly couple at the next table over is not-so-subtly staring at Nyla. It happens. Occasionally people in this white-bread Idaho town act surprised when they see a black person. It’s what Nyla calls the unicorn effect. People see her and stare like she’s some rare and magical creature that they’ve only heard about in storybooks. Which is weird for Nyla, because she was raised by a white family in a white town and doesn’t totally identify as American Black.

We ignore the gawkers and polish off the rest of the ice cream. Nyla gestures at the waitress for the bill. Which she pays. She always pays, birthday or not. I try not to feel guilty about it.

“Dinner was excelente,” I say as we walk out to Bernice, Nyla’s car. “Gracias, señorita.”

“De nada,” Nyla replies. Yay for three years of middle school Spanish. This is unfortunately about the collective sum of our ability in that language.