What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross

When divorced and childless 35-year-old ad executive Lucy Wakefield finds an unattended baby girl in a shopping cart at IKEA, she capitalizes on the unexpected opportunity. After snatching the fair-haired baby Natalie from the store, she passes the infant off to her friends and family as an infant privately adopted from a pregnant teenager in Kansas.

Young Natalie is raised in affluence in Manhattan by an Asian nanny as Lucy’s adopted daughter Mia. Her biological parents, Marilyn & Tom, are left to weather the fallout in suburban New Jersey. They eventually break up under the strain and go their separate ways.

Events are told in the first person from multiple character viewpoints as Lucy rationalizes the abduction of the baby. Lucy’s husband left her prior to the abduction after she was emotionally scarred by being unable to conceive. Lucy’s sister, Cheryl, seems self-absorbed in her own family responsibilities and unable to recognize Lucy’s fragile mental state. Even the baby’s original paid caretaker, a babysitter who missed work on the day of the kidnapping, feels remorse at staying home to take care of her own sick child that day.

The baby’s biological mother, Marilyn, feels guilt for her inattentiveness at the store while taking a call from work. Her husband, Tom, can’t stand the emotional trauma and lack of resolution. He quickly moves overseas after the search for baby Natalie is abandoned due to lack of leads.

As Mia (formerly Natalie) grows into a teenager and young adult in a life of privilege, Lucy is always looking over her shoulder and fails to connect meaningfully with other adults as the result of her guilty secret. Biological mother, Marilyn, remarries and crafts a new family of 3 children as a stay-at-home mom in California, thousands of miles from the scene of the abduction.

Events come to a head when Lucy, moonlighting as a ghost writer, becomes the co-author of a book with a child-kidnapping plot and has to do public appearances to promote the book.   Biological mother Marilyn sees a cell phone picture of Mia during a book signing for the kidnapping book and becomes convinced that Mia is her long lost daughter. She makes a connection with Mia on Facebook and precipitates the unraveling of her college-aged daughter’s assumed persona and Lucy’s flight to avoid prosecution.

This is a fast-paced narrative from varying viewpoints that explores the emotional landscape of regret and its repercussions in the lives of numerous individuals. No one comes across as entirely blameless and some characters seem more open to the possibility of forgiveness and redemption than others.   This novel is very reminiscent of “The Deep End of the Ocean”, a best-selling novel of about 10 years ago by author Jacquelyn Mitchard that was selected as Oprah Winfrey’s first book club novel. It related the mental anguish of a couple whose 3-year-old son was kidnapped at a crowded event.

A book club guide is included in the back of this novel and I would recommend this book as a good candidate for group discussions because of the themes of guilt and innocence and the nature of the mother-daughter bond. The author, Helen Klein Ross, is a poet and novelist whose works have appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker.

By Lisa Kobrin

Reference Librarian at the May Memorial Library.