Cover of Relative Strangers by Paula Garner. A girl sits on a bench looking at a man, with both their backs to the viewer.

About the Book

Title: Relative Strangers
Published: 2018

Cover Story: Tagline
Drinking Buddy: Triple Mocha Latte
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Um…
Talky Talk: We Are Family
Bonus Factors: Foster Family, Rats
Bromance Status: Brotherly Love

Cover Story: Tagline

While the cover looks like a Forrest Gump outtake, I do like that tagline.

The Deal:

Eighteen-year-old Jules enjoys coffee, antique china, her gay bestie Eli, and dreams of a better life. Her mother is an artist: distant uncommunicative. She rarely talks with her daughter. Truth be known, Jules doesn’t even know who her father is.

When trying to find a baby picture for a yearbook project, Jules stumbles across a dark family secret.


At the age of one, Jules’s mother, an alcoholic, temporarily lost custody of Jules. She was in foster care for over a year. And…she had a brother. Not a biological brother, but a foster brother. And from the evidence she can find, one who loved her very much. With a little googling, she tracks down her old family. Including her brother, Luke, who’s now a handsome college senior and aspiring concert pianist. The entire family is anxious to reconnect with their lost daughter, a girl who they once hoped to adopt. Sixteen years later, can Jules upgrade her family? Are they as wonderful as they appear?

Drinking Buddy: Triple Mocha Latte

Two pints of beer cheersing

Jules is one of those teenage characters who have convinced themselves that nobody likes them. She’s part of a trio of buddies, but feels that her other two friends, Leila and Gab, connect on a deeper level. They’re also much richer than her, with loving parents who dote on them. Jules wants her mother to pay attention to her, but takes her aloofness as rejection. And, of course, she compares herself negatively to every girl she meets.

But inside, she’s a likeable, talented, strange kid, who understands why Eli loves his pet rats and can give you the history of vintage buttons. She’s just trying to find that place in the world where she fits in.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Um…

So after a decade and a half of wondering what happened to his little sister, Luke finally has her back. They instantly bond, with Luke filling Jules in on her childhood and Jules (and Eli) swooning over Luke’s skill as a pianist. Jules finally has a big brother. Someone to share her deepest thoughts and to be there for her when she’s scared or frustrated.

The thing is, Luke is good looking. Really good looking. And older, and sophisticated, and cool, and talented and…

But he’s her brother! I mean, not in the genetic sense, but he’s practically the same thing. Of course, he hasn’t seen her since she was in diapers…

No! It’s wrong to even think of that! What would his parents think?

The book does a good job of dealing with this unique brotherly bond without being gross. Honestly, I think the relationship could have gone either way just as nicely.

Talky Talk:We Are  Family

Jules has spent years despairing of ever connecting with her mother, who cares about her art above all else. And now she has a chance for a familial upgrade. Luke’s family has never stopped loving her, and now she can just go off and be part of another family. A better family!

C’mon, every kid has dreamed of this. Who of us hasn’t, in a moment of anger, fantasized that their real parents wouldn’t be so mean? Even Jules’s friend Leila started life in an Ukrainian orphanage and is now the daughter of some rich Americans. Why can’t Jules have the same luck? It’s not as if her mother will miss her.

Of course, parenting isn’t all about the money or communication. Yeah, her mother lost her, but she got her back. She’s been sober for sixteen years. Doesn’t that count for something? And how does Mom feel about Jules’s plan to trade her in for a newer, fancier model?

While the foster family was just a little too good to be true and Jules’s mother undergoes a rather convenient personality shift halfway through the book, I still loved them all. Relative Strangers is a nice look at the changing nature of the family, and whether or not blood is truly thicker than water.

Still, you have to wonder what the non-related Brady kids were up to in that big house with one bathroom…

Bonus Factor: Foster Family

Paper doll family (mom, dad, and two children) with a red heart above them and a paper cut out house next to them

What kind of person opens up their home to a child whose own parent(s) can’t take care of them? A child who may be emotionally or physically scarred. People who would spend their own money, use their own home, and give up their own time to raise someone else’s kid. People who could love a child who they know they may have to give up one day. Is it any wonder Luke’s family was hoping to make the arrangement permanent? Can you blame them for wanting to bring her back into the fold, many years later?

Bonus Factor: Rats

Scene from WIllard, a creepy man with a center part surrounded by rats

Eli has two pet rats, Gatsby and Daisy (though they’re both males). While Jules is kind of disgusted by this, she understands why Eli loves them like someone would care for a couple of cats or puppies. Not all pets are cute, but the affection we have for them is real.

Bromance Status: Brotherly Love

You may only be an ARC, but I feel a bond with you, the same as any hardcover.

Full FTC Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book from Net Galley. No money or vintage buttons, however.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.