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  • Karis Anne

My Father's Daughter: Short but Not Simple

Later – much, much later – when we both knew what we had bought and what it had cost, she said that I should tell it. 

“But,” I protested, “there are some parts that I hardly know and other parts that I don’t know at all.” 

She smiled. “Life’s like that. A little knowing. A lot of not knowing.”  

-- My Father’s Daughter


My Father’s Daughter, a novel written by E.L. Konigsburg (two-time Newbery medal-winning author), is perhaps one of the best children’s books that I have ever read. 

At only 118 pages, this novel is a pretty quick read. But it is also simply packed with character development, beautiful dialogue, and emotion!

My heart strings were definitely pulled by this masterfully short book, a story splashed across the backdrop of a very rich family in the American 1950s. 


Synopsis: 

Winston Carmichael has it all: a big house, servants, vacations in Palm Beach, and a fancy private school. But with overprotective parents and a sense of responsibility for his younger sister, Heidi, Winston sometimes feels more as if he’s living in a prison than a dream. 

One day, a woman appears at the front door claiming to be Caroline, Winston’s half sister, who was kidnapped and presumed dead long before he and Heidi were born. Is she really Caroline? Is she an imposter? Or is she something far more complicated than either? And does she hold the key that could unlock the door to Winston’s prison?


Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Review

My Father’s Daughter is, I would say, good. 

The plot is good; the stakes are good; the writing is good. 

But some questions to ask might be: Is the content good? Does it call good “good” and evil “evil?” Does it inspire me to do what is right or does it excuse what is wrong?

This is probably my biggest problem with this beautiful little book. Just because someone’s intentions are good does not mean that their choices are necessarily good. Bad choices should not be excused or condoned in the name of “good intentions.” This is a line that I feel My Father’s Daughter (slightly) blurs. I will talk about this more a little later (although this explanation might contain spoilers)!


My Father’s Daughter is full of truth. 

This book gave me a window for understanding circumstances to which I haven’t been exposed. It allowed me to see how “being rich” is not all that it’s cracked up to be. It showed me how riches can truly imprison, a truth which the Bible actually points out many times in its own pages. Konigsburg’s book also gave me insight into what America was like in the ‘50s for a rich family…and for a not-so-rich family. It showed me what living with a physically or mentally-handicapped person in the house might feel like. It gave an accurate depiction of an ignored-but-educated young boy’s thoughts and feelings. Honestly, the whole book (and the way it was written) just rang so true to me, that I almost feel like this could have actually happened. Perhaps, just perhaps, this fiction is actually true. Maybe it all really happened…maybe…but let me stay on track here!


My Father’s Daughter is beautiful. 

Honestly, the writing of this little book is amazing. It flashes back and forth from the “past” (around twenty years earlier) to the “present” effortlessly. 

The writing is unique in that Konigsburg uses so many different styles to drive the story to its perplexing conclusion: Letters written by characters were included, and a playwrighting style was used. In addition, an entire article (written by a character) is read at the end of the story! These styles do not detract from the story, but actually add to it, building interesting layers.  

 The book evokes feelings and emotions, but doesn’t get too sentimental. It makes points without preaching. The dialogue is beautiful – thought-provoking and rich. 

I could go on about how truly beautiful this book is, but instead I’ll just tell you to go read it!


Questions:

 As I mentioned in my previous book review, the ethical questions a book causes you to ask (and the answers it points you too) can actually make or break that book! In my opinion, this book really does pose some very interesting questions. 

Here are some valuable questions that this book made me ask:

  • How could a rich life be an imprisoned life?

  • Are success and wealth more important than solid friendships?

  • Can someone be “handicapped” only because they are “trained” to be?

These are good questions for a reader to grapple with (especially the “child” audience to whom  the book is marketed), and the answers (if you dig around slightly under the surface) can be quite controversial, making us think! 


Other Positive Elements: 

Another thing I love about My Father’s Daughter is that it is written like a giant puzzle that  slowly, craftily comes together. The question that plagues both the man in the “present” (the man writing his own story) and his childish self (20 years younger) is the same: Is Caroline really Caroline?

It is only at the very end of the book that this question is finally answered…and then suddenly all the pieces fall together in a gigantic domino effect! But before the last couple chapters, the suspense just builds. And builds. And BUILDS!


Negative Elements: 

As much as I loved My Father’s Daughter, there were a couple of things that gave me pause (*Note: possible spoilers ahead!*). 

First of all, when the truth about Caroline comes out, it turns out that she basically lied, concealed her identity, and stole a large sum of money. But the book portrays her as a good person! There are great reasons for everything she does and did; the book argues, she had wonderful intentions and her heart was good. I’m not saying that every book should have perfect characters or that they should never do wrong, but I do think it is worth questioning when a book points to bad actions as justifiable and when good (not harm) actually comes from them. 

Although this is kind of a subtle message in the book, I consider it to blur the good-and-evil-boundary…especially considering that this book is marketed towards children. 

If the junior reader thinks that Caroline is a great person, and then they realize that she did all those wrong things, their perspective on Caroline will not change. Their perspective on good and evil will change. And that, I feel, is dangerous. 

  • Sexual or Inappropriate Content - There is a scene where Winston (a middle-schooler) walks into a woman’s house and sees a baby girl naked from the waist down. This is not explicit, but it makes Winston uncomfortable and he says that he “looked more than was sophisticated.” He also doesn’t want to use the bathroom in the woman’s house, because he is afraid there might be “tiny curly hairs in the bathtub,” among other things.  Another problem I had with this book was that at the very end there is a subtle suggestion that Caroline may have actually loved Winston’s father (romantically?)…although his father is already on his second marriage. This is just a weird suggestion to me and I wonder why it is included because it seems to have hardly any bearing on the story. It is also unclear whether Caroline’s mother (her father’s first marriage) was divorced from her father before the mother died. 

  • Profanity - There are a few misuses of God’s name. 

  • Drug/Alcohol Use - It is mentioned that Caroline’s mother became an alcoholic after Caroline’s disappearance. Caroline smokes. 

  • Violence: A sister bites a brother’s ankle. Other than that, there’s basically none. 


Conclusion: 

My Father’s Daughter is an impactful, little children’s novel that I think is well worth reading…even (actually, especially) if you are not a child. 

I believe it is a true, good, and beautiful book…although, of course, not perfect. 

It has plenty of issues, problems, and questions that a Christian reader needs to work through from a Biblical worldview. I also wonder if a young reader (the kind of reader the book is for) would be able to “rightly divide” and analyze this endearing story. 

  But then, this book also shares some beautiful truths with a reader’s heart, and makes true points about riches, relationships, and humanity. 

My Father’s Daughter is short, but by no means simple…and I believe that it is truly worth a read!

--  Karis Anne



2 Comments


Autumn Grace
Autumn Grace
Apr 15

This was a very interesting sounding book, Karis. I may have to check it out! Thanks for the review. :)

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Karis Anne
Karis Anne
Apr 16
Replying to

You are very welcome!

And yes...I think that it was a really good book...you should read it :)

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