There are few conversations in modern books about controversial topics that execute these ideas in a clear and believable way. Katie Ganshert takes on difficult conversations about adoption, divorce, race, prejudice, and more in her novel: No One Ever Asked. While sometimes I feel the story is pushed past believability to make a point, overall the characters behave in a realistic manner. Though they are sometimes unlikeable, they have true weaknesses as well as redeeming qualities. As a mother through international adoption, I don’t often find media that reflects the struggles and unique challenges that families like mine face. No One Ever Asked does that and more. I was angry, I laughed, I cried and many times I wanted to yell at the characters in the novel. That makes for an interesting read and engaging storytelling. 

(Mostly) Spoiler-Free Synopsis

The novel follows several families in two communities from very different walks of life as they get pushed together by circumstance. When South Fork, a predominately Black school district in a low-income and high-crime area loses its accreditation the state law requires and allows for the students to be bussed to a neighboring school in the affluent area. Because there have been many instances of violence and crime the parents in the affluent area, Crystal Ridge, are concerned about the new students as their previous school had many violent crimes. There is racial tension in this town that is not accustomed to change. 

Anaya is a young, Black woman who has finished her student teaching and wants to return to her hometown and teach. Unfortunately, the school has just lost its accreditation and ability to hire new teachers. Instead, Anaya gets a job at the affluent school because she can also coach track; but she is conflicted feeling as if she is abandoning her community and home. On top of her complicated feelings about her teaching career, she is still grieving the recent death of her father as well as an injury that cut her college track career short. She has to address her demons and her own prejudices against the wealthy parents of the children she teaches while overcoming the grief and losses of her past 

Another woman we follow is Camille, a middle-aged, wealthy, white woman who is a stay-at-home mom. She is highly involved in PTA and deeply involved in the lives of her three children. She is what some would call the “perfect” mom in the “perfect” family; but as her personal life is ripped apart, she desperately fights to keep her family together. She, like many in the affluent community, is worried about new students joining her children’s school. When she speaks up at a community meeting discussing the changes to her children’s school district she sounds prejudiced. While explaining her concerns about safety, she appears to make racially insensitive comments. This is picked up by the local news and she has to face the backlash in her community. She is trying to cope with all the changes to her community and her family while former friends and neighbors accuse her of racism and bigotry. 

The last character we follow is Jen who suffered many years of infertility before becoming a new mother through the adoption of a 7-year-old girl named Jubilee from Liberia. Her husband is smitten with their new daughter and their new life when they move for his job and to be in the best school district in the state. Jen is struggling with the difficulties of new motherhood while trying to fit in with a new town and dealing with the complicated journey of raising a child who was adopted from a different culture and race. She is also dealing with realizations about the bigotry and even outright racism of her parents and their disappointment about her adopting a Black child. 

The three women are thrown together when Anaya becomes the second-grade teacher of both Jen and Camille’s daughters. These women who are all facing their own trials have to learn to work together peacefully while their town is torn apart by disagreements and misunderstandings about inequality, race, adoption, and more. 

There are no innocent charters in this book and that is what makes it a believable read. The title No One Ever Asked perfectly sums up a story of three women who judge and place false assumptions about each other simply because of questions that are never asked. When there is no open dialogue or discussion about difficult topics misunderstanding can create hate and social issues. The novel explores the problems many in our country face. We do not know how to talk about difficult subjects like race, adoption, or the vast differences between public schools in affluent areas versus low-income schools. The town becomes more polarized and less understanding of differing viewpoints as the story presses on until a climax that leaves three women humbled and their lives changed forever. 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This book was, overall, very well done. The character development is relatable and the author is able to weave problematic characters into the plot without resorting to stereotypes and tropes. That being said, the three women in this story are all facing incredibly painful personal journeys and allow their prejudices to keep them from growing. The second-grade teacher Anaya judges Jen for being a white mother who doesn’t know how to do her Black daughter’s hair. All the while, Jen is dealing with Jubilee’s food insecurity, bed wetting, and accidents on top of language barriers and other trauma-influenced behaviors her newly adopted daughter is going through. 

Camille appears perfect on the outside but she is losing her grip on reality as multiple crises face her family one after the other. The whole community judges her comments at the town meeting deeming her racist without truly knowing her and her family’s legitimate concerns about safety. Camille is worried for her children because the news only covers the violence of the neighboring impoverished community. In her white-picket-fence life, it was hard for her to understand that the new students are just kids like everyone else. Camille’s daughter is given less attention than the bussed students from the other community because Anaya has a bias towards the kids from her own neighborhood. She is mostly unaware of this. When Camille’s son befriends a highly intelligent Black boy new to her community she starts to realize her unconscious bias and make changes in herself. 

Anaya is facing her tormented past and also teaching at a school she was sure she would never have to return to after student teaching there. She is torn between her upbringing where she experienced discrimination and hardship because of her skin color. Anaya is angry that in her new job a parent is blatantly racist during the back-to-school night despite other parents defending her. Her anger is deeply rooted in a long past of being mistreated. 

Still, Anaya starts to see Camille’s world more clearly when her brother becomes friends with Camille’s oldest daughter. Anaya even softens to Jen’s struggles when Jen’s daughter runs away from class terrified when a boy has a bloody nose. Anaya sees that international and interracial adoption is more complicated than she first understood. Anaya then invites Jen and Jubilee to the salon her auntie owns. Jen is touched by this olive branch. 

‘No One Ever Asked’ – Wrapped Up

While this novel sometimes falls short and I may disagree with how the author handles every situation in this novel, it is worth the read. I found myself discussing it for weeks after I first finished it. I made all my friends read it so we could discuss the complex themes and maybe yell at the characters together. The climax of the story will keep you guessing until the end and be prepared to face your own bias and perhaps unconscious prejudice that may be a blind spot. I know this book revealed many of my own blind spots and helped me to think about these issues in a deeper and more nuanced way. No person is wholly good or bad. We all make mistakes, and our words may be taken out of context. The takeaway is that we should be open to new ideas and willing to ask the hard questions and take the hard answers to heart.